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These doctors are wearing dresses!

I’m looking forward to returning to the Marias Heritage Center here in Shelby tomorrow evening for another Tuesday evening of reading and sharing some Montana History with some of the Heritage Center residents. These days, you’ll find me reading “The Doctor Wore Petticoats-Women Physicians Of The Old West” written by award winning screen writer Chris Enss. This tome is turning out even more interesting and challenging that I originally thought. I…most of us, I believe…always knew that it was difficult for women in certain vocations. Medicine, pharmacy, law all come to my mind. For women physicians in the old west or just about anywhere, DIFFICULT was not the word! I would say ‘DOWNRIGHT IMPOSSIBLE” most of the time. And week and week as I read this collection of early women doctors, I am more than surprised at the number of educated male physicians and some of their downright screwy ideas on why women couldn’t shouldn’t and (if they had anything to say about it) wouldn’t become medical practitioners. Brigham Young himself said in December of 1851, “A doctor, if he had good sense would not wish to visit women in childbirth. And if a woman had good sense she would not wish a man to doctor them on such an occasion.” Male doctors hoping to prevent the “fairer sex” from entering the field of medicine publicly chastised those women who had such desires. They often referred to them as “unnatural” and “lacking in the ability to know their place.” Even the male students at Harvard University back in 1850 chimed in with a protest resolution drafted by male students: “Resolved. That no woman of true delicacy would be willing in the presence of men to listen to the discussions of the subjects that necessarily come under the consideration of the student of medicine. Resolved, That we object to having the company of any female forced upon us, who is disposed to unsex herself, and to sacrifice her modesty by appearing with men in the medical lecture room.” And in 1867, an article appeared in the New York medical journal stating, “hope to never see a day when the female character shall be so completely unsexed, as to fit it for the disgusting duties which imperatively devolve upon one who would attain proficiency, or even respectability in the healing art.” Heard enough? It was not an easy road yet ALL the women who fought against the grain in my book went on to become not only “good doctors”, but in many cases, very exceptional and outstanding doctors. I think it does us well to look back and see how things were at one time. The “glass ceiling” we came to hear about in the 50′s and 60′s was lemonade compared to what these brave souls had to endure a almost a century before. I know that I am learning a lot and I hope my reading group at the Heritage is enjoying these stories as much as I am. See you tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at 6 in the Sun Room at the Heritage. I’ll bring my book AND my SUNNY disposition!

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