Gender in History, Manchester University Press, 2004, 240 p., £ 49.99
Women have long been crucial to the provision of medical services, both in the treatment of sickness and in maintaining health. In this study, Susan Broomhall situates the practices and perceptions of women’s medical work in France in the context of the sixteenth century and its medical evolution and innovations. She argues that early modern understandings of medical practice and authority were highly flexible and subject to change. She furthermore examines how a focus on female practitioners, who cut across most sectors of early modern medical practice, can reveal the multifaceted phenomenon of these negotiations for authority.
To uncover the medical work of women and to elucidate contemporary responses to female practitioners, Broomhall employs sources produced by a variety of authors and institutions, and a diverse range of materials such as manuscript and early printed works, personal correspondence, hospital and poor relief ledgers, and hagiographic and legal commentaries. Her research reveals that the medical care contributed by women encompassed such varied domains as surgery, child health, dietetics, primary emergency treatment, palliative care, culinary therapy, and hospital nursing. Moreover, Broomhail demonstrates not only the breadth of the medical situtations in which women worked, but also the differences in practices and perceptions -produced by varied social and economic levels.
Women’s medical work in early modem France skilfully combines new and detailed research with a clear presentation of the existing literature of women’s medical work, making it invaluable to students of gender and medical history.
Susan Broomhail is an Australian Research Council Fellow in the School of Humanities at the University of Western Australia
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