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A History of Women in Medicine and Medical Research (Hardback)

Exploring the Trailblazers of STEM

Hobbies & Lifestyle > Medicine & Health P&S History > Social History Women of History

By Dale DeBakcsy
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 16 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399068963
Published: 3rd November 2022

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In the nineteenth century, a small but dedicated group of European and American women rose to agitate for the inclusion of women in the medical profession. It is a historic tale that we have told and retold for decades, but it is far from where the story of women as physicians and healers begins. Stretching back into deepest antiquity, we possess accounts of women who were consulted by emperors and paupers alike for their medical expertise. They were surgeons, apothecaries, midwives, university lecturers, and medical researchers in correspondence with the most learned societies of their time.

And then it all came crashing down.

A History of Women in Medicine and Medical Research is the story of the women who participated in that early Golden Age, and of a medical establishment closing ranks against them so effectively that, by the early Victorian era, they not only were barred from practicing medicine, but from so much as stepping into a classroom where medical topics were being discussed. It is the story of that intrepid band of reformers and pioneers who built back the women's medical profession from the ashes and constructed a thriving new community of researchers and practitioners who within a century had retaken not only the ground that had been lost, but boldly advanced to levels of fame and achievement unimaginable to any previous era.

Told through in-depth accounts of the lives of the pioneers and practitioners who built and rebuilt the women's medical movement, this title dives into the lives of not only legendary figures like Florence Nightingale, Gertrude Elion, Rosalyn Yalow, and Elizabeth Blackwell, but visits women the world over whose medical contributions broke down doors and advanced the cause of women's and world health, like the revolutionary medieval physician Trota of Salerno, the pioneering eighteenth century midwife and businesswoman Madame du Coudray, the microbiological research trailblazer Mary Putnam Jacobi, and the HIV researcher and world epidemic response coordinator Francoise Barre-Sinoussi.

With over 140 stories spanning three millennia of global medicine, this book shines a light on the unknown heroes, towering discoveries, tragic missteps, and profound struggles that have accompanied the Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the women's medical profession.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was so informative and such a good read! I don’t typically read books like this very often but I am glad that I did.

NetGalley, Bailee Gubler

Excellent treatise on the history of female involvement in the treatment of illness and injury, of women who fought against the closed ranks of the medical profession who thought that women posed a threat to man's dominance in this field. Absolutely fascinating.

Books Monthly

I highly recommend this book, it’s a great read.

Read the Full Review Here

Coffee & Books

It is well researched and includes illustrations and a useful bibliography for further reading. The author, who has previously written extensively about women’s contributions in STEM subjects, conveys his passion and scholarship in this magnificent and inspiring volume.

Read the review here

Hektoen International Journal - Dr Arpan K Banerjee

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Five stars. It would make a superlative choice for public and school library acquisition, gift giving, and home use.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

I loved reading this ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) so much I pre-ordered it! Eye-opening, superbly written, and well-researched. I cannot think of higher praise for a non-peer-reviewed non-fiction written for a general audience. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive so I can re-read it!

A History of Women in Medicine and Medical Research: Exploring the Trailblazers of Stem is broken down into several chapters, each one focusing on a specific woman, her personal background or life story, and her professional career in the sciences. The book progresses chronologically from the 16th century up to the near present, ending in the 1970s.

Each chapter ends with a section devoted to further reading and sources. While the book lacks citations and formal references, these inclusions are especially valuable. This kind of historiography is difficult to discover without a significant investment of time and effort making Debakcsy’s book all the more useful and appealing. I do not mind admitting this is a key reason why I have chosen to purchase my own copy.

These are not long or exhaustive studies of each individual; these historiographical sections allow the reader to explore further. That said, the brevity of each chapter is not a detraction. These are easily digestible chapters, perfect for classroom use or as readings for an undergraduate course. The chapters capture all they need to, leaving the reader satisfied but curious for more.

The women themselves are fascinating subjects, not only for their contributions to STEM, but also for their perseverance and resilience in the face of class, gender, and racial prejudices. Many of the women derive from the upper classes, but a significant number of them are working- or middle-class. Some were immigrants or enslaved (or lived just outside that category). Many had to break with their families to pursue their dreams. In many cases these women knew or knew of one another, interacted closely or within similar professional circles. A cohort of pioneering women in these fields is visible in the 19th century, particularly in the fields of medicine.

While the majority of women examined and brought to light in DeBakcsy’s book are white, European or American, there are also significant chapters focusing on women of color in the Western world. These are mostly (but not exclusively) black women who broke academic and professional ceilings.

This is a fantastic book for the classroom and any library (academic and home, alike). I cannot wait for my copy to arrive!

NetGalley, JoAnn LoSavio

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book as I loved learning about the strong influence that women have had in the world of STEM. I studied pharmaceutical analysis with forensics in college and I was always interested in women's contribution to science as a whole and what type of treatment they received from society while trying to prove their equality amongst the extremely male dominated science community. I also enjoyed the fact that the historical links were short and to the point and I would love to read another book like this in the near future.

NetGalley, Orla Coyne

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book. The writing is crisp and well-paced, with some well-placed lightness. By necessity, the biographical profiles are short but this allows more women to be discussed. I also liked the very short snippets of the women who did not have longer entries. The book, aside from being highly informative, was fun to read. There was a lot of clever wording and some absolutely brilliant writing, and I would read these passages multiple times. I also enjoyed DeBakcsy’s discussions of further readings after each chapter, where one specific reading was discussed in a bit of detail, as opposed to the long lists usually found in books. Overall this was a great read.

NetGalley, Stephen Goldberg

About Dale DeBakcsy

Dale DeBakcsy has written the popular bi-weekly Women In Science column at Women You Should Know (www.womenyoushouldknow.net) since 2014, creating a freely accessible archive of in-depth and rigorously researched articles detailing the history of women professionals in all branches of STEM. For three years, he was the author and illustrator for the History of Humanism series at New Humanist, and is a contributing author to the Great Minds column at Free Inquiry Magazine. His essays have appeared in Philosophy NowThe FreethinkerSkeptical Inquirer Magazine, American Atheist Magazine, The Humanist, and Free Inquiry Magazine. From 2007 until 2018, he (under the incredibly classy pseudonym Count Dolby von Luckner) and Geoffrey Schaeffer co-wrote the historical satire webcomic Frederick the Great: A Most Lamentable Comedy Breaching Space and Time, and in 2016 he published The Cartoon History of Humanism at The Humanist Press. By day, he is an instructor in world history, mathematics, and science in the beautiful California Bay Area. By night, he is… very tired. He is the proud father of two girls, two cats, and four chickens. This is his first book for Pen and Sword Books.

Born on this day - Elizabeth Blackwell

3rd February 1821

First woman to receive a medical degree in the United States as well as the first woman on the UK Medical Register.


View all events View all anniversaries

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