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, 82 (1), 52-85

A View From the Streets: Women and Medical Work in Elizabethan London

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A View From the Streets: Women and Medical Work in Elizabethan London

Deborah E Harkness. Bull Hist Med.

Abstract

In Elizabethan London, women occupied a significant position in the city's medical marketplace, both as consumers of medical services and as practitioners. Though male medical authors of the period objected to the presence and practices of these women, a very different view of their medical work emerges if we shift our historical vantage point to the streets, houses, churches, and hospitals of the city. Using relatively underutilized sources such as parish records, probate records, lists of immigrants to London, hospital records, and individual manuscripts it is possible to draw a richer, more detailed portrait of how female health-care workers engaged with the business of health and healing. Women emerge from these records as active, prominent, and acknowledged participants in the delivery of services that promoted and preserved the health of many Londoners from cradle to grave. Hired by public institutions such as parishes and hospitals, as well as by private individuals, women were central figures in the delivery of nursing, medical, pharmaceutical, and surgical services throughout the city as part of organized systems of health care. Exploring how Londoners saw female practitioners, and how women played a recognized role within the city's range of health-care options, demonstrates that women were crucial to community health, and were also valued as such by their neighbors and patients.

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