This is the first part of a two part series, the other being Complaints and Disorders.
Witches, Midwives and Nurses explains how the American medical profession came to be dominated by rich, white men, while Complaints and Disorders addresses the effects of this domination.
Barbara Ehrenreich &
The suppression of female healers by the medical establishment was a political struggle, first, in that it is part of the history of sex struggle in general. The status of women healers has risen and fallen with the status of women. When women healers were attacked, they were attacked as Women; when they fought back, they fought back in solidarity will all women.
It is a political struggle, second, in that it was part of a class struggle. Women healers were people’s doctors, and their medicine was part of a people’s subculture. To this very day women’s medical practice has thrived in the midst of rebellious lower class movements which have struggled to be free from the established authorities. Male professionals, on the other hand, served the ruling class – both medically and politically. Their interests have been advanced by the universities, the philanthropic foundations and the law. They owe their victory – not so much to their own efforts – but to the intervention of the ruling class the served.
This pamphlet represents a beginning of the research which will have to be done to recapture our history as health workers. It is a fragmentary account, assembled from sources which were usually sketchy and often biased, by women who are in no sense “professional” historians. We confined ourselves to western history, since the institutions we confront today are the products of western civilization. We are far from being able to represent a complete chronological history. Instead, we looked at two separate, important phases in the male takeover of health care: the suppression of witches in medieval Europe, and the rise of the male medical profession in 19th century America.
To know our history is to begin to see how to take up the struggle again!