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Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine

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The story of three Victorian women who broke down barriers in the medical field to become the first women doctors, revolutionizing the way women receive health care. In the early 1800s, women were dying in large numbers from treatable diseases because they avoided receiving medical care. Examinations performed by male doctors were often demeaning and even painful. In addit The story of three Victorian women who broke down barriers in the medical field to become the first women doctors, revolutionizing the way women receive health care. In the early 1800s, women were dying in large numbers from treatable diseases because they avoided receiving medical care. Examinations performed by male doctors were often demeaning and even painful. In addition, women faced stigma from illness--a diagnosis could greatly limit their ability to find husbands, jobs or be received in polite society. Motivated by personal loss and frustration over inadequate medical care, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake fought for a woman's place in the male-dominated medical field. For the first time ever, Women in White Coats tells the complete history of these three pioneering women who, despite countless obstacles, earned medical degrees and paved the way for other women to do the same. Though very different in personality and circumstance, together these women built women-run hospitals and teaching colleges--creating for the first time medical care for women by women.


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The story of three Victorian women who broke down barriers in the medical field to become the first women doctors, revolutionizing the way women receive health care. In the early 1800s, women were dying in large numbers from treatable diseases because they avoided receiving medical care. Examinations performed by male doctors were often demeaning and even painful. In addit The story of three Victorian women who broke down barriers in the medical field to become the first women doctors, revolutionizing the way women receive health care. In the early 1800s, women were dying in large numbers from treatable diseases because they avoided receiving medical care. Examinations performed by male doctors were often demeaning and even painful. In addition, women faced stigma from illness--a diagnosis could greatly limit their ability to find husbands, jobs or be received in polite society. Motivated by personal loss and frustration over inadequate medical care, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake fought for a woman's place in the male-dominated medical field. For the first time ever, Women in White Coats tells the complete history of these three pioneering women who, despite countless obstacles, earned medical degrees and paved the way for other women to do the same. Though very different in personality and circumstance, together these women built women-run hospitals and teaching colleges--creating for the first time medical care for women by women.

30 review for Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine

  1. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    A well-researched and enlightening read about the history of women doctors, with a major focus on Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, M.D., and Sophia Jex-Blake, M.D. In this book, I acquired a great many insights as author Olivia Campbell: 1. writes an easy-to-follow narrative without interrupting her writing flow with endless facts and figures; however, she does include a "Select Bibliography", "Notes on Sources" and an "Index - totaling 52 pages; 2. gives a brief history of wo A well-researched and enlightening read about the history of women doctors, with a major focus on Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, M.D., and Sophia Jex-Blake, M.D. In this book, I acquired a great many insights as author Olivia Campbell: 1. writes an easy-to-follow narrative without interrupting her writing flow with endless facts and figures; however, she does include a "Select Bibliography", "Notes on Sources" and an "Index - totaling 52 pages; 2. gives a brief history of women as healers (including 300 years of witchcraft accusations) up to the Victorian era; 3. describes, in great detail, the roadblocks that these 3 women endured, physically, mentally and emotionally, from misogynists and sexists, both male and female, including Joseph Lister and Queen Victoria herself; and, 4. relates how these women demonstrated ambition, tenacity and perseverance, amid all of their trials and tribulations, going on to improve women's health, thereby changing the world! Interesting note that Campbell states: "In 2017, for the first time ever in the US, there were more women medical students than men." Looks like women have come a long way! Easy to read! Extremely informative! Highly recommend!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Olivia Campbell

    I think I wrote a good book!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    2.5 stars I have mixed feelings about this book, which has a fascinating topic, women breaking into the medical profession in the 19th century U.S. and U.K., but which is not particularly well-written or well-sourced. This is a group biography of three medical pioneers: Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the U.S. to earn an M.D. (in 1849); Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman in the U.K. to do likewise (more than a decade later); and Sophia Jex-Blake, another British woman who became a 2.5 stars I have mixed feelings about this book, which has a fascinating topic, women breaking into the medical profession in the 19th century U.S. and U.K., but which is not particularly well-written or well-sourced. This is a group biography of three medical pioneers: Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the U.S. to earn an M.D. (in 1849); Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman in the U.K. to do likewise (more than a decade later); and Sophia Jex-Blake, another British woman who became a doctor not long afterwards, fought for women’s education and founded multiple medical schools for women. Importantly, despite its subtitle, the book itself makes clear that these ladies were in no way the “first female doctors”: women have always treated the sick and wounded, and even within the narrow bounds of this book’s scope (the U.S. and U.K. in the 19th century), these women weren’t actually the first. See, for example, Martha Ballard and many like her, who functioned as doctors to the women and children of their community, though they had no formal training and were typically referred to as midwives; Margaret Bulkley aka James Barry, who disguised herself as a man beginning in the 1810s in order to obtain medical education and postings; and Harriot Hunt, who apprenticed as a doctor and opened a Boston practice in the 1830s without a medical license—which was actually perfectly acceptable at the time. The American Medical Association wasn’t even founded until 1847. What set Blackwell, Garrett Anderson and Jex-Blake apart was that they specifically wanted to prove what women could do, obtain all available academic credentials in their fields, and open paths for other women to follow. (Blackwell specifically turned down a suggestion that she obtain a degree by going abroad in male disguise; nor did she pursue apprenticeship in lieu of a degree, though the author posits that one would have been easily available to her.) Money was not a pressing concern for them, and in fact none seem to have had a passion for medicine before settling on it as a worthy career path and opportunity to be trailblazers. All seem to have found it fascinating once they began, though they struggled to find schools willing to admit them, obtain licensure, and keep medical practices going in the face of widespread sexism. At any rate, this book is a very informative look into the battles these women and their contemporaries had to fight for education and recognition, as well as into their lives and personalities. They were quite different from one another—Blackwell and Garrett Anderson were very focused on being good examples, while Jex-Blake was louder and more impulsive—and had very different personal lives: Blackwell remained single (seeming to see her attraction to men as something she needed to defeat) and adopted a young girl; Garrett Anderson married a man and had children (you can read about her daughter, also a surgeon, in the recent No Man's Land); and Jex-Blake found romantic partners in other women. While they all struggled to get an education, surprisingly this was much easier for the two pioneers. The “exceptional woman” whose existence, by virtue of the fact that she’s exceptional, doesn’t threaten the establishment, is very much in evidence here: men weren’t nearly as disturbed by one woman obtaining a medical license (especially if they could close the door after her) as by an entire cohort trying to do the same. Jex-Blake and her colleagues in Edinburgh faced actual riots from male students and locals at their medical school, and the same happened to groups of female medical students in the U.S.—which never happened to Blackwell or Garrett Anderson when they showed up alone. That said, while I appreciated the information this book provided, the writing style is often clunky, conversational in a way that comes across as lacking in copyediting, and tends toward editorializing. For instance, Campbell frequently refers to male doctors freaking out at the idea of women entering the profession as “throwing tantrums”—perhaps not unfair and I get throwing back at men infantilizing language often used against women, but I tend to prefer my writing a bit less openly partisan. Also, the citation style is awful: citations aren’t linked to either page numbers or endnote numbers and so while they are there, it’s needlessly difficult to find the one you’re looking for. Some of the citations also raised my eyebrows: Wikipedia is one, as is Quackery, a humorous history for the general public which itself doesn’t cite any sources. So it definitely has a rah-rah-girl-power tone, at the same time as treating her subjects a bit like, well, girls. Campbell is so committed to always referring to every women mentioned by her first name that, given two named Elizabeth, she calls Garrett Anderson “Lizzie” throughout. It's even stranger when applied to women who aren't prominent subjects (nevertheless Florence Nightengale is “Florence” and I struggled a bit in the sea of Marys, Maries, etc.). Meanwhile, she refers to men by their last names or as “Dr.” She doesn’t address the reasons for this, and it sits uneasily beside outrage at the lack of respect shown these women. The book also tends toward oversimplifying, with many of its side issues not seeming well-researched. For instance, Campbell confidently asserts that J. Marion Sims (considered the father of modern gynecology) used anesthesia on white women but not black women, when there seems to be good historical evidence that he didn’t believe in anesthesia at all and particularly not when it was new, and she implies he performed experimental surgeries on healthy slave women rather than those who actually needed it. As with much of what she says, Campbell has a point—Sims’s choice of slaves for his experimental subjects was exploitative and based in racist beliefs—but she perhaps oversells it. That said, I’m rounding up to three stars because I hadn’t read about these women before and I’m very glad that I did. This book makes for a decent biography of them as well as history of women trying to obtain medical training in these two countries generally, with many of their contemporaries also briefly discussed. My opinion might change after reading other books on the subject: The Doctors Blackwell (about Elizabeth and younger sister Emily) is on my list to read soon. - Edit: I read The Doctors Blackwell and did find it the better-written of the two, though it puts the Blackwell sisters more in the context of the Blackwell family than the larger drama of women fighting for medical education; Garrett Anderson and Jex-Blake are seen only briefly there. Also, while Campbell is a bit starry-eyed about her female pioneers, Nimura seems to rather dislike Elizabeth Blackwell. For those particularly interested in the topic, the books are different enough to read both without too much repetition.

  4. 4 out of 5

    "Avonna

    WOMEN IN WHITE COATS: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine by Olivia Campbell is a historical biography which follows the lives of three Victorian women who fight to earn MDs from universities in the early 1800’s. This book follows Elizabeth Blackwell MD, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson MD, and Sophia Jex-Blake MD as they fought for first their medical educations and degrees against male prejudice and then strived to improve the health of women and children. Their determination op WOMEN IN WHITE COATS: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine by Olivia Campbell is a historical biography which follows the lives of three Victorian women who fight to earn MDs from universities in the early 1800’s. This book follows Elizabeth Blackwell MD, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson MD, and Sophia Jex-Blake MD as they fought for first their medical educations and degrees against male prejudice and then strived to improve the health of women and children. Their determination opened doors and led the way for more women to follow. I liked this book, but I was hoping for more. The determination of any trailblazer must be applauded, and these women’s accomplishments are astonishing as each did it in her own way in a repressive time period. The medical descriptions of practices and procedures in the Victorian era covered in this book are fascinating and it is a wonder anyone lived with some of the treatments given, but there is so much detail that the narrative gets bogged down in places. Also, as the story continues, there are friends and acquaintances added which leads to my having difficulty keeping track of who was doing what and where they were located without sometimes flipping back in the story. This was an interesting biography of these determined women. RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars (Rounded up)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    This is an interesting and informative book that looks at the stories of three women who wanted to become doctors long before that was a socially acceptable idea. Society was perfectly happy to accept women as nurses or perhaps even doctor's assistants, but for a woman to want to be a doctor and hold the authority at position offers - that was too much for far too many men in the Victorian era. But despite the resistance they faced, the three women highlighted in "Women in White Coats:" Elizabet This is an interesting and informative book that looks at the stories of three women who wanted to become doctors long before that was a socially acceptable idea. Society was perfectly happy to accept women as nurses or perhaps even doctor's assistants, but for a woman to want to be a doctor and hold the authority at position offers - that was too much for far too many men in the Victorian era. But despite the resistance they faced, the three women highlighted in "Women in White Coats:" Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and Sophia Jex-Blake persisted in their efforts to get a proper medical education, hold a M.D., and making a living practicing medicine. It was far from easy. Many schools refused to admit them, professors wouldn't hear of having a woman in the room when discussing topics deemed too grotesque for a woman's delicate brain. They were forced to endure ridicule and even outright harassment just for wanting to sit in a medical school classroom. Their exams were often harder or more numerous and getting the M.D. title was a whole other administrative battle with threats of lawsuits left and right. Today, it's unbelievable that women once had to fight so hard to become doctors, especially since there are now just as many women doctors as men, if not more. No doubt, it's thanks to these and other women for making it possible for a woman to wear a white coat. I really enjoyed reading these women's stories, although (as you could imagine) it could get infuriating hearing what these women had to go through. It was also heartbreaking learning that, before there were women doctors, many women wouldn't seek the medical treatment that they needed because they didn't feel comfortable talking to male doctor about the problems they were having. Sometimes it takes a woman to understand another women's pain, and the relief that the women patients felt to see a "lady doctor" brought a smile to my face. I definitely recommend this one if you're interested in learning more about how women broke into the medical field! Thanks to the author for sending this book my way.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Excellent look at the struggle of the first women doctors I loved this book. It is written in a conversational tone and I found the book inspirational. Although there is some medical information in the book, the book is more about the women’s struggles. However, what medicine is discussed is explained very clearly. The book covers the contemporaneous social and political situations that makes for fascinating reading. Indeed, the book reads more like a novel than nonfiction. I recommend this book Excellent look at the struggle of the first women doctors I loved this book. It is written in a conversational tone and I found the book inspirational. Although there is some medical information in the book, the book is more about the women’s struggles. However, what medicine is discussed is explained very clearly. The book covers the contemporaneous social and political situations that makes for fascinating reading. Indeed, the book reads more like a novel than nonfiction. I recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of medicine or in the stories of women who spearheaded the movement to establish women as doctors. Disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of this book via Edelweiss for review purposes.

  7. 4 out of 5

    LibraryCin

    4.25 stars This is mainly a biography of three of the first women doctors in the mid- to late-19th century, but also a history of the fight for the right of women to become doctors. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the US to earn an MD, in the mid-1800s. It took a while longer, but Lizzie Garret was the first in England. Sophia Jax-Blake was not immediately next in the UK, but she worked hard fighting for the right of women to be able to earn that designation; she did get her MD later s 4.25 stars This is mainly a biography of three of the first women doctors in the mid- to late-19th century, but also a history of the fight for the right of women to become doctors. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the US to earn an MD, in the mid-1800s. It took a while longer, but Lizzie Garret was the first in England. Sophia Jax-Blake was not immediately next in the UK, but she worked hard fighting for the right of women to be able to earn that designation; she did get her MD later s well, but she also helped start up two women’s medical schools – in London and Edinburgh. Every step of the way took months and years of hard work for these women to be able to earn that MD. With the stereotypes and fears of male doctors, professors, and medical students pushing back with excuses to deny them this. Before the women’s schools were set up, these women had to take classes (many privately, and at a much higher cost), as well as find a placement for clinical practice to gain that experience; very very difficult to do when most hospitals continually turned them down. There were some male doctors (and professors) who were sympathetic and did help out as much as they could. I’ve left out so much of the struggles! This book is nonfiction, but it reads like fiction. Very readable. Oh, the frustration, though, at the male students, doctors, and professors! They call the women “delicate” and such, but as far as I can tell, the men were the “delicate” ones with their temper tantrums (the phrase entered my head even before she used it in the book!), not able to handle that there are women just as smart and can do the job just as well as they (possibly) could (although I do wonder about some of those men!). And these men were supposed to be trusted to tend to women’s health issues!? Ugh! (Many women at the time avoided, if possible, seeing male doctors for their ailments.) Many of the women students had better grades than the men, but of course, were never really acknowledged for it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book via Goodreads giveaway. This is an excellent read for anyone looking to gain a perspective on what it was like to be a female seeking a medical degree (or any college level education) in the 1800s. It's mind-blowing to read about the misogynistic opinions of most men (and even some women) during this time. Apparently women were too weak both mentally and physically to be allowed to obtain a medical degree. However, the three prominent women discussed in Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book via Goodreads giveaway. This is an excellent read for anyone looking to gain a perspective on what it was like to be a female seeking a medical degree (or any college level education) in the 1800s. It's mind-blowing to read about the misogynistic opinions of most men (and even some women) during this time. Apparently women were too weak both mentally and physically to be allowed to obtain a medical degree. However, the three prominent women discussed in this book, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and Sophia Jex-Blake, never backed down. As a female, it was very inspiring for me to read about these truly brave women. I'm so thankful for these women. Without them, I may not have the option to attend college at all. I'm also very impressed at the extensive research Olivia Campbell must have done in order to complete this book. It is written in a fascinating way and never gets boring.

  9. 5 out of 5

    =^.^= Janet

    Date reviewed/posted: December 6, 2020 Publication date: March 2, 2021 When life for the entire universe and planet turns on its end and like everyone else you "have nothing to do" while your place of work is once again closed and you are continuing to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #secondwave is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from Date reviewed/posted: December 6, 2020 Publication date: March 2, 2021 When life for the entire universe and planet turns on its end and like everyone else you "have nothing to do" while your place of work is once again closed and you are continuing to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #secondwave is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. For fans of Hidden Figures and Radium Girls comes the remarkable story of three Victorian women who broke down barriers in the medical field to become the first women doctors, revolutionizing the way women receive health care. In the early 1900s, women were dying in large numbers from treatable diseases because they avoided receiving medical care. Examinations performed by male doctors were often demeaning and even painful. In addition, women faced stigma from illness—a diagnosis could greatly limit their ability to find husbands, jobs or be received in polite society. Motivated by personal loss and frustration over inadequate medical care, Elizabeth Blackwell, Lizzie Garret Anderson and Sophie Jex-Blake fought for a woman’s place in the male-dominated medical field. For the first time ever, Women in White Coats tells the complete history of these three pioneering women who, despite countless obstacles, earned medical degrees and paved the way for other women to do the same. Though very different in personality and circumstance, together these women built women-run hospitals and teaching colleges—creating for the first time medical care for women by women. With gripping storytelling based on extensive research and access to archival documents, Women in White Coats tells the courageous history these women made by becoming doctors, detailing the boundaries they broke of gender and science to reshape how we receive medical care today. I did a project in grade 5 on Elizabeth Blackwell so this book was a must-read for me. I am not a feminist but I enjoyed seeing what these women had to go through to be doctors. It is an enjoyable book that I will recommend to patrons, friends and book clubs alike as it is well written and researched and at no time boring, dry or dusty. Overall, an amazing read whether you are a feminist or not...why I am NOT one is a long, boring story. As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I simply adore emojis (outside of their incessant use by "🙏-ed Social Influencer Millennials/#BachelorNation survivors/Tik-Tok and YouTube Millionaires/snowflakes / literally-like-overusers etc. " on Instagram and Twitter... Get a real job, people!) so let's give it 🏥🏥🏥🏥🏥

  10. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    There's one quote that stands out from the many others in this marvelous book about the first women doctors. "A woman must have uncommon sweetness of disposition and manners to be forgiven for possessing superior talents and acquirements" (Elizabeth Smith). Indeed, a familiar refrain echoes that well-behaved women seldom make history but readers are really probably looking for ladies who likely adhere to societal norms of femininity rather than the opposite. Three women emerge during the Victori There's one quote that stands out from the many others in this marvelous book about the first women doctors. "A woman must have uncommon sweetness of disposition and manners to be forgiven for possessing superior talents and acquirements" (Elizabeth Smith). Indeed, a familiar refrain echoes that well-behaved women seldom make history but readers are really probably looking for ladies who likely adhere to societal norms of femininity rather than the opposite. Three women emerge during the Victorian Era in the early 1800s to forge a path to give women the opportunity to become doctors in the completely male dominated practice of medicine. Driven by ambition and a desire to achieve dreams for career and independence beyond was was available for women at the time, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake pursue extremely difficult challenges in their quest. I've always been interested in health, disease, and medicine. I grew up in a large household with my father, a family physician, and my mother, a registered nurse, very open and knowledgeable about those subjects. One of the first books I read as a child was The First Woman Doctor: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D. (Scholastic Biography) by Rachel Baker published in 1972. Although highly motivated, I did not become a doctor after all, but spent 42 years as a registered nurse and watched women become more prominent in medicine and surgery. Reading this book gave me fits as I realized all of the obstacles that those first women doctors had to go through to get their education and to receive their MD registry. It's laughable and maddening how hard the male students, other physicians, and professors worked to keep women out of the universities and prevent them from receiving the training. How scared the men must have been to think that their whole superiority was based on nothing but the delusions of their own minds. The fact that these pioneers kept going in the face of it all is truly worth admiration and we who now benefit by having so many wonder female doctors need to be reminded of these trailblazers. The writing was extremely detailed and the author does jump around a bit in time and place, but it was a very interesting read in the Biographies & Memoirs | History genre. I chose this to celebrate Women's History Month as I wanted to appreciate the accomplishments of these women who truly have made a difference in health care. I'll end with these quotes to give you more to think about: "Recent research shows women may actually be better doctors. They are more likely to follow clinical guidelines and provide preventive care than their male counterparts." It's interesting that in 2017, in the US for the first time ever, there were more medical students that were female than male. "What a glorious rebuke to all those nasty Victorian nay-sayers who claimed women were entirely unfit to practice medicine." Thank you to NetGalley and HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada) Park Row for this e-book ARC to read, review, and recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    Thank you to NetGalley and Park Row for providing me an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review Women in White Coats tells of the struggles of the first women in America and the UK to obtain medical degrees and be seen as serious medical professionals. While it seemed to me that the author occasionally went off on unnecessary tangents, this book is very readable for a piece of non-fiction and tells a gripping story while also imparting a lot of information. Although about the medical Thank you to NetGalley and Park Row for providing me an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review Women in White Coats tells of the struggles of the first women in America and the UK to obtain medical degrees and be seen as serious medical professionals. While it seemed to me that the author occasionally went off on unnecessary tangents, this book is very readable for a piece of non-fiction and tells a gripping story while also imparting a lot of information. Although about the medical field, this book is as much about Victorian social customs and morality as it is about medicine. Women had to struggle against a patriarchal society to obtain medical degrees that were seen as valid and equal to the ones that men could receive. These pioneering women not only changed medicine—giving female patients female physicians that they could better relate to—but also set a president for all women to gain access to any means of higher education. This is an interesting and insightful work about the perseverance of women fighting for equal rights to education and access to professional disciplines.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a richly told acccount of the intelligent, brave, and determined women who forced open the door for women in medicine. Librarians/booksellers: Women's history continues to be quite popular; having a medical history angle adds to the appeal for many readers. A strong purchase. Many thanks to Harlequin and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review. Read if you: Want a richly told acccount of the intelligent, brave, and determined women who forced open the door for women in medicine. Librarians/booksellers: Women's history continues to be quite popular; having a medical history angle adds to the appeal for many readers. A strong purchase. Many thanks to Harlequin and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lianna

    This was the first non-fiction book I've read for joy, not for school or academic reasons. And this one was just wonderful! This follows (mainly) three women in the late 19th century as they go against the American and British patriarchal medical culture to become the first female doctors. They were the trailblazers for female doctors everywhere, and their stories were filled with so many obstacles and hurdles they had to overcome to follow their dreams. I felt that Olivia Campbell did a great jo This was the first non-fiction book I've read for joy, not for school or academic reasons. And this one was just wonderful! This follows (mainly) three women in the late 19th century as they go against the American and British patriarchal medical culture to become the first female doctors. They were the trailblazers for female doctors everywhere, and their stories were filled with so many obstacles and hurdles they had to overcome to follow their dreams. I felt that Olivia Campbell did a great job writing the histories of these women, putting everything in (mostly) chronological order, and presenting a wonderful image of these complex women. It didn't feel like I was reading historical facts, it truly felt like I was right there next to those women experiencing the same things with them. That right there is some great storytelling. I also really appreciated how she didn't just stick to these women, she also delved into the future ramifications and impacts these women had on the medical field years later.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Fascinating and engaging. This is the history of three Victorian women and their journey to open the doors to becoming doctors not only for themselves but for women of the future. Many of these women were instrumental in developing the attributes of the modern day medical school in the United States including clinical practice. These driven and intelligent women overcame so many obstacles including a male dominated industry and society norms which barred their access to becoming medical doctors. Fascinating and engaging. This is the history of three Victorian women and their journey to open the doors to becoming doctors not only for themselves but for women of the future. Many of these women were instrumental in developing the attributes of the modern day medical school in the United States including clinical practice. These driven and intelligent women overcame so many obstacles including a male dominated industry and society norms which barred their access to becoming medical doctors. They were also instrumental in providing medical care for women by women. Yes, women feel connected and understood by another woman when they want to discuss women's issues! Told in a beautiful narrative style that kept me reading. I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Maura

    I already loved Elizabeth Blackwell, whose life story first sparked my interest in the medical field. After reading this book, I also love the other women whose histories are included. Women in White Coats is my favorite nonfiction of the year, hands down.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Well written for the most part, if a bit dense and not flowing well in places. The stories of these women are detailed with both their personal and professional lives, with the former focused mostly on what led the women to decide to become doctors.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brittany (whatbritreads)

    *Thank you to the author for sending me a copy to review!* This was a really interesting look at some figures in history I’ve never even heard of before. It was really well written and informative, I appreciated the way it got straight to the point. Considering I knew next to nothing about the topic of medicine in this time period and only have a vague knowledge of women’s rights at the time, this helped paint a small picture. Obviously it goes into the topic of sexism a lot, but also classism, h *Thank you to the author for sending me a copy to review!* This was a really interesting look at some figures in history I’ve never even heard of before. It was really well written and informative, I appreciated the way it got straight to the point. Considering I knew next to nothing about the topic of medicine in this time period and only have a vague knowledge of women’s rights at the time, this helped paint a small picture. Obviously it goes into the topic of sexism a lot, but also classism, homophobia and racism. I would’ve liked to have gone more in depth with the intersectionality of the topic and the nuances, but I suppose then the book would have gone on forever. While I liked the focus on only three figures, they did start to blur in my head and the more I read I wasn't entirely following it and kept losing focus. I think that’s due to the way it’s formatted, but honestly I also don’t know how it could have been formatted any better. I liked how the role of the church was also discussed here as holding up patriarchal standards. Sometimes it’s something that just completely slips my mind so it was an interesting dimension to factor in. It was pretty briefly discussed but definitely something I’d like to look more into. It also pointed out how development in medicine often came at the cost of exploiting African American women and experimenting on them which is an important thing to bring up, but I feel like this book could’ve gone further with highlighting racism in the time frame. Though a lot of the book is pointing out how obviously misogynistic men were and how they primarily were the ones limiting and judging women, it also pointed out they were also shunned by other women who thought they were being ridiculous. It was a really strange thing to recognise how in the society they’d been brought up in, some women genuinely thought it was a ridiculous thought to want some sort of equality. There was also emphasis on the fact that by denying women into the medical field, it was putting women’s lives at risk who struggled with the only healthcare professionals available being male. This book was just really interesting and if you’re interested in women’s rights or the progression of medicine, this will be an interesting book for you. While I have all of this praise for it, I still think emotionally I just didn’t connect with it the way I wanted to. At times it felt a bit rushed and I was confused. Somehow it also felt at times at an intersection between fiction and non-fiction, the style of writing sometimes went astray and it didn't feel entirely authentic. I understand from the author’s notes Campbell had to do extensive research and piece it together to make this book, and that’s probably where that stems from. It was a good read, and taught me a lot.

  18. 4 out of 5

    S.

    Everyone's probably heard someone say that since the pandemic began, they have trouble concentrating on books or they don't feel like reading because they have trouble concentrating. Maybe it's just certain types of books. Hello, pandemic anxiety. I have trouble focusing on dry, academic books. But that's not an issue with this history book: it's written for the general public. "The president's of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons typically came to present the prizes for the school's t Everyone's probably heard someone say that since the pandemic began, they have trouble concentrating on books or they don't feel like reading because they have trouble concentrating. Maybe it's just certain types of books. Hello, pandemic anxiety. I have trouble focusing on dry, academic books. But that's not an issue with this history book: it's written for the general public. "The president's of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons typically came to present the prizes for the school's top students, but this year, after learning women were among the recipients, they declined to appear (p. 231)." "Norton wrote to fourteen examining bodies requesting the school [Londom School of Medicine for Women] be placed on the list of recognized medical institutions. All declined (p. 276)." Above are two of many examples. All the misogynistic harrassment and bigotry shown in this book reminds me of the history book Women of Ideas: And What Men Have Done to Them by Dale Spender. I wonder how common it is to get angry about such things even if they happened a long time ago. I figure misogyny is misogyny. Um, "greedy, nefarious abortionists (p. 297)"?! What's with this book not saying anything to contradict or criticize such 19th century attitudes toward women who performed abortion? This comes up several times in the book--for instance, male doctors harboring an assumption that the only reason women want to become doctors is to be abortionists. While that doesn't describe the historical figures in this book, it's still a laudable motivation, obviously. The author strangely doesn't show any indication of disagreeing with those who diminish women who perform abortions. The first time this came up in this book, the author should have at least supplied a paragraph with some background about abortion in the Victorian era. This is especially annoying nowadays. It's been a long time since I read When Abortion Was A Crime, so it's fuzzy, though I remember reading that abortion was legal in the U. S. until the 1860s, thanks to... a pope. More recently, I began reading the book Jane Against the World, which briefly covers abortion in 19th century U. S. I'll definitely resume reading that book soon (and it's more about the 20th than the 19th century). I also have a book called Abortion in the American Imagination: Before Life and Choice, 1880-1940. And the book The Abortionist: A Woman Against the Law by Rickie Solinger. So many books to read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    Although not particularly interested in the medical field myself, I was quite excited to learn about the first women who worked as doctors. A point of clarification that is never really addressed is that this is not the history of the first female doctors anywhere, but rather some of the first in the US and UK. A quick search turns up the first female MD a century before the subjects of these books, as well as contemporaries in less Anglo countries. The three women focused on the book did lead i Although not particularly interested in the medical field myself, I was quite excited to learn about the first women who worked as doctors. A point of clarification that is never really addressed is that this is not the history of the first female doctors anywhere, but rather some of the first in the US and UK. A quick search turns up the first female MD a century before the subjects of these books, as well as contemporaries in less Anglo countries. The three women focused on the book did lead interesting lives with an enormous amount of hardship they had to persist through to pursue their education and careers and pave the way for future female doctors. A surprisingly unaddressed subject in the book was the significant role these women's' race and class played in their ability to achieve what they did. The jumping from character to character, with the introduction of many other related subjects, made the book hard for me to follow at times. I certainly learned a lot, although I don't know that I'd feel compelled to recommend this book to others. 2.5 stars

  20. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    I listened to this book over a period of weeks, which meant that I frequently lost the narrative thread of the three women's lives - especially as they seemed to face the same problems over and over again. Even so, it's a story worth telling. We can be thankful that these determined women persisted, and we can be grateful that doctors no longer (view spoiler)[place leeches on the cervix when women's periods are late. (view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)] I listened to this book over a period of weeks, which meant that I frequently lost the narrative thread of the three women's lives - especially as they seemed to face the same problems over and over again. Even so, it's a story worth telling. We can be thankful that these determined women persisted, and we can be grateful that doctors no longer (view spoiler)[place leeches on the cervix when women's periods are late. (view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)]

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lormac

    This was a book club pick, and I gave a dedicated effort, but I finally stopped at 48%. The book covers the lives of three female physicians in the middle to late 1800s. It is a worthy topic, but there is little narrative thread, and I started to get the characters confused. Also, it is clearly a labor of love by the author who spends much time giving details and quoting bits of letters and newspaper articles which don't contribute to the main theme, but which makes this book a must for readers This was a book club pick, and I gave a dedicated effort, but I finally stopped at 48%. The book covers the lives of three female physicians in the middle to late 1800s. It is a worthy topic, but there is little narrative thread, and I started to get the characters confused. Also, it is clearly a labor of love by the author who spends much time giving details and quoting bits of letters and newspaper articles which don't contribute to the main theme, but which makes this book a must for readers of feminist history who appreciate deeply researched coverage of this topic Don't take my failure to finish this book a death sentence because women in the field of medicine may find this book much less tedious than I did and, in fact, inspiring. Part of the problem for me was that I had just read "Lessons in Chemistry" by Bonnie Garmus, which, although fiction, manages to make the problems of women in a field dominated my men much easier to read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lisa of Hopewell

    My Interest I like well-written nonfiction. That the book is the story of a group of pioneering women makes it even more interesting. The Story Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake were the trailblazers for women in medicine. In the United States and in the UK, these women struggled to obtain the education and the educational qualifications necessary to legally practice medicine. Each woman’s individual story is told giving full details of how they managed to arrange My Interest I like well-written nonfiction. That the book is the story of a group of pioneering women makes it even more interesting. The Story Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake were the trailblazers for women in medicine. In the United States and in the UK, these women struggled to obtain the education and the educational qualifications necessary to legally practice medicine. Each woman’s individual story is told giving full details of how they managed to arrange the tuition necessary in the various sciences and to obtain permissions to attend lectures, see practice on hospital wards and visit homes in the cause of public health. Crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic, traversing the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and venturing to the hallowed halls of the Sorbonne and of other European schools, the women were indefatigable in their quest to become doctors. In an age in which merely being taught basic arithmetic was not a given for girls of any class, these women sought not only higher mathematics tuition, but teaching and practice of science, something they were considered “too delicate” or insufficiently intelligent to study. The same arguments were given for opposing women’s entry into medicine–aside from begrudging acceptance as nurses and midwives. While Blackwell found a loophole to scrape through and achieve registry with the Apothecaries, the others went through more hoops than anyone today would put up with–and usually just to be thwarted. My Thoughts Overall, this was a fascinating book. The women’s stories were engaging and the trials they faced were demanding. I was struck by the similarity in tactics (in some cases, not all) between the women and the students who integrated all-white Southern universities in the early 1960s. These women took the jeers, and catcalls, and all the rest. One even changed her diet to almost starvation, to avoid blushing. That is dedication to a cause. She was determined to hold to her decision not to raise to the bait. Unfortunately, I thought the author did a disservice to her subject in a few ways though. She resorted to generalities, especially about men. She gave perhaps more attention than was needed to the women’s personal lives–so judicious cutting in this area would have helped. The story often seemed repetitive–it really wasn’t but because each women went through so many of the same trial or similar trials with similar institutions, it felt that way. A journalist by profession, Campbell can certainly spin a good story, but she went overboard trying to hold to the most “cutting edge” language of our day to describe the past. What I mean by that is not only the hard-won elevation of “slaves” to enslaved people–and the women described deserved that term unreservedly for their heroism. If you thought Henrietta Lacks was treated horrendously, wait till you read about Alabama’s Antebellum version of Joseph Mengele (I am not slighting anything any one suffered in the Holocaust with this comparison. Read about these poor women and you’ll understand the hell the endured). That one I could understand completely. But writing of “birthing persons” instead of women or mothers in a mid-19 century hospital was absurd. No one in that era even gave a thought to the surgical and hormonal change of one sex/gender to the other. It sounded even sillier than it does in modern usage (and it is silly, as are the ridiculous terms “chest feeding” or “menstruating persons”). At times I felt like I was reading this in a game of “Woke Bingo.” Not only the “birthing persons” thing, but all the others–“through the lens of” and the obligatory description of a man as a “misogynist.” I nearly rolled my eyes out of action. How did she skip using “exercising agency”? Or. did I miss that in a fraught traffic moment (I was listening on my commute). All of this cheapened the book, as did silly phrases like “blow-back.” She detracted from the women’s story with this type of thing. There were also lapses in rigor such as saying someone was “probably” the first women to enroll at St. Andrews University. “Probably?” Do you mean to tell me the University doesn’t know who its first woman student was? Or that you couldn’t Google the answer? Universities trot that sort of information out all the time for things like International Women’s Day. That was shoddy scholarship. I cannot, this time, say these are “picky” things. They really did lessen the impact of the women’s stories. This was an important story to tell and one that today’s young women and girls need to hear. At a time when women almost (almost) take for granted that 50% of American medical students are female, those same students need to remember what it took to get them there. My Verdict 3.0 Reading notes only--not a review "blow-back"? Really?? What is this, a blog post? Very left, very feminist bias "birthing people" in the mid-19th century???? Ok, I can give on "enslaved people"--that is fine, but "birthing people" when absolutely NO ONE thought anyone but a female/woman/mother could give birth. Finally, a man is described as a "misogynist". It's like a bingo card reading this. Hygiene got "through the lens of" into the "narrative" lol. IF this was a drinking game.....still need "agency" used not as an organization--that's probably coming up somewhere or else I was too focused on traffic and missed it (audiobook)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    This was a pretty fascinating account of early women trying to break into the male-dominated world of “professional” medicine. It was often infuriating (as injustice, prejudice, and sexism are), but also intriguing. The mentions and brief descriptions of medical treatment and knowledge during the late 1800s were great reminders of how far we’ve come. And the petulant, immature actions of those trying to keep women out of the field were a great reminder of how far we haven’t come. I often found my This was a pretty fascinating account of early women trying to break into the male-dominated world of “professional” medicine. It was often infuriating (as injustice, prejudice, and sexism are), but also intriguing. The mentions and brief descriptions of medical treatment and knowledge during the late 1800s were great reminders of how far we’ve come. And the petulant, immature actions of those trying to keep women out of the field were a great reminder of how far we haven’t come. I often found my engagement waning, but wanted to read the entire book and follow the lives of these women through to the end. overall it did a fine job of tying together various overlapping timelines and stories, and I think it’s an important and interesting history to look at. (2.5 stars rounded up to 3)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Within the first pages of h this book, Olivia Campbell makes it clear that the first women physicians were true pioneers. However, it is the modern narrator’s voice that is audible rather than those of Blackwell, Garrett or Jex-Blake. From comments about bigotry and misogyny to a comment about “birthing people,” this book is colored by the author’s views and that makes it difficult to truly engage with the story. It is a shame, because it is extraordinarily well researched and well-told. It’s re Within the first pages of h this book, Olivia Campbell makes it clear that the first women physicians were true pioneers. However, it is the modern narrator’s voice that is audible rather than those of Blackwell, Garrett or Jex-Blake. From comments about bigotry and misogyny to a comment about “birthing people,” this book is colored by the author’s views and that makes it difficult to truly engage with the story. It is a shame, because it is extraordinarily well researched and well-told. It’s readable, but there are no tenterhooks to keep me turning the page to find out what will happen next.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    3.5 rounded down, I enjoyed this book a lot (as a women who plans to become a doctor). I was fascinated by the stories of the women and I especially enjoyed how much research was put into the book. The author did a really nice job of writing this book as a story while keeping true to the history of what happened. Overall, the reason it didn’t get a higher rating is just that it felt really slow and hard to get through at points which I think is just something that nonfiction books struggle with 3.5 rounded down, I enjoyed this book a lot (as a women who plans to become a doctor). I was fascinated by the stories of the women and I especially enjoyed how much research was put into the book. The author did a really nice job of writing this book as a story while keeping true to the history of what happened. Overall, the reason it didn’t get a higher rating is just that it felt really slow and hard to get through at points which I think is just something that nonfiction books struggle with some times.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    I liked this book. But I did not love it. To be clear, I am not reviewing the people described, but the book it self. The women who are the subjects of this book were amazing women and should continued to be viewed as such. That being said, the writing of this book was a bit dry and hard to follow. The author had a tendency to go on tangents about side characters that did not really contribute to the story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Scott

    Very informative about medicine and the dominance of men in the profession in most of the world in the 19th and early 20th century. Not to be read for pleasure.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karin

    This book has some good information and at times read fairly well, but the writing was very uneven and at times it felt like someone made editorial suggestions here and there were there were snippets that could have been pulled directly from a historical romance novel (eg's to follow). Sometimes it was just awkward, but at other times flowed. Given Campbell's literary credits, I primarily blame the editor(s) at Harlequin since I cannot imagine that she wrote like this for "The Atlantic, The Guar This book has some good information and at times read fairly well, but the writing was very uneven and at times it felt like someone made editorial suggestions here and there were there were snippets that could have been pulled directly from a historical romance novel (eg's to follow). Sometimes it was just awkward, but at other times flowed. Given Campbell's literary credits, I primarily blame the editor(s) at Harlequin since I cannot imagine that she wrote like this for "The Atlantic, The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Magazine/The Cut, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, and Literary Hub" in which her work has appeared. It is popular now to write literary nonfiction to help people come alive, but this failed many times, especially with lines like "x would've thought" or "y must have felt" etc. I even checked the spine at one point because despite being in large print (what i could get my hands on quickly) it read like a young adult nonfiction book for younger teens many times. Also, some parts had a plethora of unnecessary and jarring commas. From the first sentence of a paragraph Soon, she became quite actively involved... and in the midst of the previous paragraph, ...where women could earn professional academic qualifications. There, Sophia took classes... Also, and one would never see this in a book about male doctors, for every main woman we got a full, long sentence on how she wore her hair that was just out of nowhere. So, some "offending" quotes that have no place in a book such as this that are fictional since no one actually knows this that I can tell: Short wisps of Elizabeth's wavy, reddish-blond hair escaped from its pulled-back confines and spilled across her forehead. 2 paragraphs later (and note the unneeded first comma) This time, Elizabeth disagreed, finding it difficult to hide her shock behind her wide-set blue-gray eyes. Now tell me, is this really a way to push back against the sexism that raged regarding women becoming doctors? What does this sort of thing communicate to a younger reader? That said, there are a number of redeeming sections later on the book if you can avoid throwing it against the wall first. However, there are better books out there.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I found this a well-written history that twined together the lives of three women doctors, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and Sophia Jex-Blake, as well as the women who followed in their footsteps, including the "Edinburgh Seven." It reads easily, as if it were a novel, and it explores the relationships these women doctors formed with other women of the time including Barbara Bodichon, Josephine Butler, Margaret Fuller, Florence Nightingale, Lady Russell, et al. The book also i I found this a well-written history that twined together the lives of three women doctors, Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and Sophia Jex-Blake, as well as the women who followed in their footsteps, including the "Edinburgh Seven." It reads easily, as if it were a novel, and it explores the relationships these women doctors formed with other women of the time including Barbara Bodichon, Josephine Butler, Margaret Fuller, Florence Nightingale, Lady Russell, et al. The book also includes all sorts of juicy tidbits about Victorian England and America, including the social and intellectual circles and political upheaval and aspects. They are feathered in, often to provide a sense of just how much these women were up against. Here's just one quote from a newspaper: "Ladies are all very well in their place, and that is looking after the latest Paris fashions and making tea at home ... there is an abundance of cases of disease where a physician absolutely cures, not by his ... knowledge, nor yet by his acquaintance with medicines but by the prestige of his mere presence; by being able to put his foot down; in one word, by being a man." Hmm. I also particularly appreciated the inclusion of information about the medical community generally, including the treatments (mercury and laudanum, good grief), evolving ideas about education and midwifery, the practice of snatching recently dead bodies from graves, and so on. One villain who emerges is Christison, a misogynist and cocaine user. As a student, Conan Doyle encountered him and put some of his habits into Sherlock Holmes and his more objectionable qualities into Holmes's evil nemesis Moriarty. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in the women's movement or the history of medicine.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ashkan

    The story of the main subjects and their tenacity is itself very interesting, though the structure of the book is lacking and makes the story hard to follow. Insistence on calling everyone by their first names makes it somewhat confusing.

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