Female Patients in Early Modern Britain: Gender, Diagnosis, and Treatment, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Female Patients in Early Modern Britain

Gender, Diagnosis, and Treatment, 1st Edition

By Wendy D. Churchill


298 pages

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Paperback: 9781138274044
pub: 2017-01-31
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This investigation contributes to the existing scholarship on women and medicine in early modern Britain by examining the diagnosis and treatment of female patients by male professional medical practitioners from 1590 to 1740. In order to obtain a clearer understanding of female illness and medicine during this period, this study examines ailments that were specific and unique to female patients as well as illnesses and conditions that afflicted both female and male patients. Through a qualitative and quantitative analysis of practitioners' records and patients' writings - such as casebooks, diaries and letters - an emphasis is placed on medical practice. Despite the prevalence of females amongst many physicians' casebooks and the existence of sex-based differences in the consultations, diagnoses and treatments of patients, there is no evidence to indicate that either the health or the medical care of females was distinctly disadvantaged by the actions of male practitioners. Instead, the diagnoses and treatments of women were premised on a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of the female body than has previously been implied within the historiography. In turn, their awareness and appreciation of the unique features of female anatomy and physiology meant that male practitioners were sympathetic and accommodating to the needs of individual female patients during this pivotal period in British medicine.


'This is a well-written and important work that contributes to the historiographical debates about sex differences in early modern medicine. It is also a model of how careful research in archives can lead to a thought-provoking and powerful revelation of medical history from below.' The Historian 'Wendy D. Churchill provides a refreshingly careful and substantially more nuanced account of the relationship between patients' gender and medical practice from the late sixteenth to early eighteenth centuries.' Early Modern Women Journal 'Meticulously researched and presented, Female Patients represents a landmark in the historiography of sex difference.' Social History of Medicine 'In this fine book, the continuities across the period from 1590 to 1740 in patient-centred health care, dependence on the two-sex model and the diagnosis of sex-specific diseases such as female hysteria are made plain. The key from start to finish is meticulous research driven on by work in the archives. This book is to be welcomed as a crucial and original addition to the literature, written with poise and clarity.' History 'Overall this is a useful addition to the genre and will be appreciated by historians working in the fields of early modern medical practice and gender studies.' Parergon 'The contribution that Churchill makes to the theory-versus-practice debate in early modern medical history is significant. Her conclusions about the significance of menstruation as a barometer of health, and as an aid in effecting cures of certain ailments, moves the discussion of female medical care in a new direction, and nuance the dominant 'medical marketplace' model which is used to explain early modern health care… the book represents a new and exciting venture into the history of medical encounters in the early modern period.' English Historical Review

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: Investigating the records of British medical practice, circa 1590-1740; Male medical practitioners and female patients in early modern Britain: gendered clienteles, illnesses and relationships; The treatment of female-specific complaints by male hands; Prescribing for the sexed body: women, men, and disease in early modern British medical practice; Feminizing the ’diseases of the head, nerves or spirits’: medical diagnosis of women’s minds, bodies, and emotions; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Wendy D. Churchill is Associate Professor in the Department of History, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Canada. Her research and publications in the social history of medicine have focused on the themes of gender, race, and class in the context of early modern Britain and its empire.

About the Series

The History of Medicine in Context

An interest in medicine is one of the constants that re-occurs throughout history. From the earliest times, man has sought ways to combat the myriad of diseases and ailments that afflict the human body, resulting in a number of evolving and often competing philosophies and practices whose repercussions spread far beyond the strictly medical sphere.

For more than a decade The History of Medicine in Context series has provided a unique platform for the publication of research pertaining to the study of medicine from broad social, cultural, political, religious and intellectual perspectives. Offering cutting-edge scholarship on a range of medical subjects that cross chronological, geographical and disciplinary boundaries, the series consistently challenges received views about medical history and shows how medicine has had a much more pronounced effect on western society than is often acknowledged. As medical knowledge progresses, throwing up new challenges and moral dilemmas, The History of Medicine in Context series offers the opportunity to evaluate the shifting role and practice of medicine from the long perspective, not only providing a better understanding of the past, but often an intriguing perspective on the present.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Modern / 17th Century