The Most Relevant Women In The History Of Medicine

For a long time, Prehistory had a masculine gender. And it is that the specialists defended for decades the role of the “hunters-men” and the “gatherers-women”, since the first prehistorians considered that the physical activity of hunting was too dangerous and demanded a physical strength that they did not have. women. However, this model is no longer supported, it has been shown that those women were endowed with strong muscles and that they were very vigorous, so the tasks must have been distributed in a balanced way.

Prehistoric women, moreover, must have played an important role in the collection of plants, which leads us to think that they would be the ones who, through trial and error, would acquire the first knowledge about medicinal plants and, therefore, Therefore, they were the first doctors in history.


From Agnodice to Hildegard of Bingen

For centuries women have been silenced and removed from medical practice, so you have to go deep into antiquity to discover women with their own names. One of the first was Agnodice, a woman who lived in the third century before our era and whose life is halfway between reality and legend. It is said that she wanted to learn medicine but since the profession was forbidden to women, she cut her hair, dressed as a man and went to Alexandria, where she was a disciple of Herophilus.

Upon completion of his studies he returned to the Peloponnese and devoted himself to the practice of gynecology. But the doctors realized that no woman required his services and accused Agnodice of seducing them. It was at her trial that she revealed her female status, for which she was sentenced to death. She, however, escaped the maximum sentence when the women she had helped intervene on her behalf.

Metrodora was another Greek woman who happens to be the author of the oldest medical text in history written by a woman: “On the diseases and cures of women.” She is believed to have lived between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD and the etymology of her name comes from her profession (meter, uterus, and dora, gift).

In the 11th century the school of Salerno was founded, near the Benedictine monastery of Montecassino, near Naples. There, Trótula de Ruggiero, a woman born around 1110 and who worked as a professor of gynecology, stood out. In her work “Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum” (Women’s Ailments) she addressed such controversial issues as eliminating that menstruation was the origin of all women’s ills or that they were the only ones responsible for infertility. In addition, she advocated the use of medicinal plants to alleviate labor pain, a remedy that was totally prohibited at that time.

In the 12th century, Hildegarda of Bingen lived – the Rhine sibyl -, a multifaceted abbess who had knowledge of physics, philosophy, music and medicine. To her we owe the introduction of hops in the manufacture of beer and the most detailed description of the female orgasm made so far. In his medical work he delves into certain aspects related to food, pointing out that what is good for some is not necessarily good for others, recommending a dish adapted to the age, season and physical constitution of each person, always drinking a little water or wine with food and accompany the dishes with a sauce to facilitate digestion.

From Isabel Zendal to Rosalind Franklin

In 1803, the frigate “Maria Pita” left A Coruña, captained by the Spanish doctor Francisco Xavier Balmis. Its objective was to take the smallpox vaccine to all Spanish overseas territories, to reduce the high lethality of the virus. In the expedition, in addition to 22 orphaned children, was Isabel Zendal, who can be considered the first nurse in an international health expedition in history.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) along with a team of thirty-eight nurses participated in the Crimean War. Thanks to her perennial curiosity, she was able to observe that the mortality of soldiers admitted to a hospital was not due to war injuries, but rather to the lack of drinking water facilities and intra-hospital epidemics. These observations allowed him to make a series of changes and save the lives of thousands of soldiers. For all these reasons, Nightingale -the lady with the lamp- is considered the creator of modern nursing.

Florence NightingaleGetty Images

The first woman in the world to obtain a medical university degree was Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), she achieved it in 1849. In our country we had to wait until 1882, the year in which Dolors Aleu Riera became the first graduate in medicine, a profession he practiced for a quarter of a century.

In 1914, Marie Curie (1867-1934) developed a system for bringing portable X-rays to the front lines of World War I. For this, she managed to adapt a dynamo to the engine of a truck, which also had photographic material and a dark room for developing plates. It is estimated that she assembled a fleet of some 200 “Petites Curies” (Little Curies) that contributed decisively to saving more than a million wounded soldiers.

The figure of Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), an English chemist who made a decisive contribution to understanding the structure of DNA with her famous photograph 51, could not be missing from this journey.



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