The Healer's Calling: Women and Medicine in Early New England
This book, the first to describe women medical practitioners other than midwives in the colonial period, emphasizes that medical care was part of every woman's work. The Healer's Calling uses memorable anecdotes, engaging characters, and medical oddities to tell the fascinating story of the practice of household medicine in early America. Rebecca J. Tannenbaum points out that housewives provided much of the medical care available in the seventeenth century. Elite women cared for the indigent in their towns and used medical practice to make influential connections with powerful men; "doctresses" or "doctor women" supported themselves with their practices and competed directly with male physicians; and midwives were crucial "expert witnesses" in cases of fornication, murder, and witchcraft. Yet there were limits to the authority of women's healing communities, with consequences for those who overstepped the bounds. By setting women's practice in the context of contemporary medicine, gender roles, and community norms, Tannenbaum also reveals the relationship between women's medical practice and witchcraft accusations. Tannenbaum examines colonial America's full range of medical options--including the work of classically trained male doctors and male lay practitioners--with a keen eye to the interactions and tensions between men and women in the realm of healing.
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About the Author
Rebecca J. Tannenbaum is Lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University.
"As medicine became increasingly professionalized and male during the 1700s, women's roles changed.... Attempts to exclude women totally from professionalized medicine failed; by the late 1840s, Elizabeth Blackwell began to study for a medical degree. Rebecca Tannenbaum, with elegant prose and deft analysis, has done a fine job explaining who paved her way."-- "Journal of American History"
"In highlighting the importance of women's work as healers, Tannenbaum reminds us that we still have much to learn not only about the history of medicine but also about the nature of colonial gender relations.... The Healer's Calling points the way to a new and exciting area of investigation."-- "Isis"
"In this succinct but carefully documented book, Rebecca Tannenbaum dispels conventional images of medical practice in colonial New England by focusing on the essential role played by women.... This is a book that will be valuable for readers and students seeking a more accurate picture of colonial medicine, for women's studies classes, and for more general readers whose understanding of colonial women's lives will be greatly enlarged by it."-- "Journal of the History of Medicine"
"In The Healer's Calling, Rebecca J. Tannenbaum seeks to reconstruct and analyze this world of colonial women healers and their medical networks. This is an ambitious undertaking for a short (152 pages plus notes) and highly readable book, an undertaking made more challenging by the apparent paucity of primary sources. Yet Tannenbaum succeeds in ways to make hers a book worthy of attention.... Tannenbaum's exploration of women's medical communities begins with the little commonwealth of the family and expands outward. Every colonial wife was obligated to provide medical care for her household, so knowledge of herbs, processing skills, and the ability to diagnose ailments were standard domestic requirements. All women shared in a common medical culture that may have included, on the margins, magical cures and some use of abortifacients. Groups of female neighbors who assisted in each other's childbirths or family sicknesses coalesced into larger female medical networks, usually led by elite women.... Rebecca Tannenbaum has launched a welcome discussion of a too-long neglected aspect of colonial history."-- "New England Quarterly"
"The author describes community networks that developed from women's healing work and how women derived authority as healers, witnesses, and medical experts in a patriarchal society. She emphasizes the rewards and dangers women faced as midwives, nurses, and doctresses women who practiced medicine like male doctors, charging fees for their service. She also considers the role of 'high-ranking' women as healers and the social implications involved."-- "New England Historical and Genealogical Register"