Saturday, April 1, 2017

A for Aspasia: Female Scientists Before Our Time

First Century AD seems a terribly long time ago for a woman to have practiced medicine in a male-dominated field, but consider Aspasia, a Greek woman who practiced obstetrics and gynecology.

Aspasia was a respected Athenian physician. What little we know about her can be found in a book written on gynecology by Aetius of Amida, a male physician and medical writer during the Byzantine period (5th to mid-6th century AD). He had learned much from her teachings passed down. Aspasia was considered an authority in gynecology - on pregnancy care,  sickness during pregnancy, delivery problems, embryontomy and care, abortion, menstruation problems, uterine ulcers, displacement of the uterus, uterine hemorrhoids, tumors of the labia, varicose hernia, and more


One procedure Aspasia practiced was to rotate the infant in the womb when stuck in a breech position.

Greek women used a Birth Stool during delivery.

Aspasia’s acceptance as a physician by her male counterparts  was a far cry from her predecessor’s experience, Agnodice, a practicing midwife and obstetrician in 300 BC. Agnodice had been forced to cut her hair and wear male clothing in order to practice medicine in Athens. Although Agnodice was a practicing physician, some debate the accuracy of her story, suggesting it was more of a folk tale, but the story is worth noting, because legends, some would argue, often reflect the culture of the day.
“A modern engraving of Agnodice, midwife and 
obstetrician, who according to legend disguised 
herself as a man in order to practice as a doctor.”

Medical practice in a male-dominated field in 300 BC could not have been easy for Agnodice, and not wishing to debate the scholars who caution against generalizations, I would point to Aristotle (384-322 BC) who thought women, being the weaker sex, were less rational than men and therefore less capable intellectually.  

As the story goes, Agnodice proved her naysayers wrong and became quite popular with her female patients. After being exposed as a woman, she was taken to court and found guilty, but her female followers rallied in support and changed an existing law so women could practice medicine in Athens.

Ancient Greek toys.


Source:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_medicine_in_antiquity; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspasia_the_Physician

https://rebelwomenembroidery.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/aspasia-the-physician-1st-century-greece/
Parker, Holt N. 1997. "Women Doctors in Greece Rome, and the Byzantine Empire." Women Physicians and Healers. Lillian R. Furst, ed. Univ. of Kentucky Press 131-150.


41 comments:

  1. Hi Sharon - I did look at education for women going back centuries ... but it was very brief and I noted the gynae developments. These two women are really fascinating ... thanks for letting us know about them ... cheers Hilary

    A - Z Challenge 2017 post today is

    Aurochs

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    Replies
    1. You're not the only one. I really had to dig for information. Thanks!

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  2. I love your theme for this challenge, and I will stick around to see who else you teach us about. I had never heard of Aspasia and Agnodice. Really loved to get to know them.

    ¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
    (¸.•´ (¸.•` ¤ Good luck on the rest of your A to Z challenge

    Sylvia @ The Creative Life

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    1. Sylvia, nice to meet you! Hope to see you back...

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  3. Nice and interesting post, and pictures!
    Still today isn't easy for women, so Il ove your theme.

    Name: Eva
    Blog: Mail Adventures
    #AtoZ Challenge Theme: Postcards
    Letter A: Adventurers. Because any postcard is a little adventure, isn't it?

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    1. Thank Eva. Looking forward to your postcards.

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  4. Facinating first post!

    Great to hear that female solidarity and support was able to change minds and laws, even back then!

    Believe In Fairy Stories - Theme - Folklore & Fairy Tales

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    1. Thank you, nice to meet you! Those fairy tales sound fascinating.

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  5. Informative post!
    Good to know about Aspasia ... wonderful topic. :)
    Thanks for sharing!
    Best Wishes!

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  6. Fantastic story. I'll necer cease to marvel to the stories of defience tha come from the far past. I think there's much to learn from them.
    For example, in spite of everything, I htink these stwo stories speak of an acceptance I'm not sure we'd be able of today.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - 1940s Film Noir

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    1. I admire their stories and marvel at the commonality with share with these ancient 'sisters'. Thanks Sarah.

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  7. I have always loved the Agnodice story. True female solidarity in a moment when men are making decisions about women's health... :D

    Weird Things in Folktales - Shrew blows nose into snout

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    1. It still happens today in less developed countries, and probably to some degree in developed. Maybe more than we realize! I love the strength of these two women Thanks!

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  8. Agnodice is a true role model -- a woman who blazed her own trail for the welfare of others. Good to meet you. :-)

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    1. Legends are sometimes the best stories. I hope every word of it was true. Thanks!

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  9. Well, good for her! What does this Aristotle person know anyway? And those toys! They are so cute.


    A is for Apollo 11 moon landing: Was it real?

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    1. Ha-ha, how true. I thought the toys looked fun. Thanks for commenting!

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  10. An interesting theme and I learn something new!

    http://sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-letter-andromeda.html

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  11. Both of these women sound very inspiring. I'm glad Agnodice got the law changed. I'm sure that wasn't straightforward.

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    1. I agree. She must have made quite a scene in court. Thanks!

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  12. You must have dug hard and long Sharon but what a worthy expedition to come up with these extraordinary women of those times. Thank you for enlightening of these women who heeded their call.
    susan: http://www.gardenofedenblog.com

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    1. I had to dig harder than expected, but once started there was no turning back. What little there is to know is phenomenal considering how long ago they lived. I applaud the researchers and archeologists who provided this information online. Thanks Susan!

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  13. What an interesting start to a great theme. I'll be following all 26 posts.
    Carmel
    Earlier Years

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  14. It seems women outsmarted men of a chauvinistic age by using their brains in a cool a logical fashion.

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  15. This is very interesting. Guess Aristotle wasn't as smart as I thought.

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  16. Replies
    1. @crgalvin. Hi, nice to meet you. Hope to see back!

      @spacer guy. Oh, that's a great observation :)

      @Denise. Well, that's probably true. Not expert on Aristotle or Plato.

      @True north. Thank you!

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  17. Wow, what an interesting theme. Looking forward to learning more :)

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  18. It always makes me laugh when anyone refers to women as the weaker sex - the female of the species does all the work when it comes to making babies! :)
    I love your theme. I had not heard of Aspasia, but I had read about Agnodice before.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings - Shapeshifters and Werewolves

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  19. Thank you for introducing us to these two amazing women!
    I'm amazed at Aspasia's authority and knowledge of gynecology.
    As a woman in 300 BC, imagine what a struggle it must have been for Agnodice to get that law changed. Great accomplishment!

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    1. @Roslyn. Thanks for visiting and hope to see you again :)

      @Natasha. Ha-ha. And then some. My husband and I tease each other on this all the time. It helps to keep a sense of humor.

      @Michelle. Thank you for visiting. I was surprised to find a gynecologist listed as such and Agnodice's story is inspiring. BTW love your hot air balloon icon :)

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    2. @Sharon. I'm the writer floating in the hot air balloon, enjoying the never-ending journey and the aerial view, as I traverse this writerly path. *waves from above*

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    3. Hi Michelle. Just noticed your added comment. I love your hot air balloon. I use this icon all the time on my computer. One of these I'm going up in one. (It's on my bucket list). Ooh, a 'writerly path' with an aerial view. Now that's the way to go. Take care!

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  20. Well, I haven't heard of Aspasia, though Agnodice appeared in my children's book on women in science. I loved the drama of the trial she faced for seducing her patients and having to strip to prove she was a woman, upon which she got into trouble for being a woman practising medicine, until her patients intervened. Ancient Athens was not a good place to be a woman. A lot died who didn't have to. They would have been thrilled to have a woman treat them.
    A folktale? Well, she wasn't the only woman who disguised as a man to study medicine. Margaret Bulkely, better known as Dr James Barry, got away with it till after she died and they came to wash the body.

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  21. Thanks for stopping by Dreaming!
    Pop on over anytime.

    Great A post!

    M : )

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  22. Another great theme for this challenge and one I will be reading regularly. Once again it shows the many battles women have had to overcome in our history and the wonderful things they have achieved. Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

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    1. @Sue. Wow, how true of these women and the huge sacrifices they made. I hope they are inspiration to your students.

      @Melinda. Hi, good to see your here. Take care.

      @Senco. Thank you. I'm proud of their accomplishments and the example they are to women all these years later.


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  23. Fantastic piece of information. Thank you.

    Unfortunately, it's still a male-dominated world, albeit subtler and less-impacting as compared to the first century (AD).

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