Medical Matriarchs: The First Female PhysiciansI just read a great article on three female Western medical physicians. Anandibai Joshi, Keiko Okami, and Sabat Islambouli eventually became among the first licensed female doctors in their respective countries: India, Japan and Syria. The picture above is so beautiful. It was due to the university they attended, run by Quakers, that these ladies were able to obtain their education.
|The picture of awesome.|
First, the term physician is problematic, as the etymology suggests:
- early 13c., fisicien "a healer, a medical practitioner," from Old French fisiciien "physician, doctor, sage" (12c., Modern French physicien means "physicist"), from fisique "art of healing," from Latin physica "natural science" Distinguished from surgeon from c.1400. The ph- spelling attested from late 14c
|Memphis and Saqqara - a resting place of an awesome woman.|
Merit Ptah is believed by scholars to be the first physician ever named in history. Her name means "beloved of the God Ptah". Ptah was the god of creation, arts and fertility, so if this god was her namesake, she had a powerful ally. She lived sometime in 2700 BCE during the Old Kingdom in Egypt. All we know about Merit Ptah is from her tomb, found near Memphis in the huge burial ground of Saqqara. On her tomb, her son - a priest- wrote that she was the chief physician of the women. An impact crater on Venus is named after her, giving her even more immortality. We'll remember her long after what's their names of the cover of People this week.
|Merit Ptah likeness in her sarcophagus - doctor's bag not shown.|
|In her son's tomb, a possible picture of his mom: wonder if she had to beg for funding?|
So why in this day and age do we care who the first women physicians are? The reason is that we need to celebrate anyone who bucks the norm. Most societies in the world, before and now, try to limit women's roles by denying them access to higher education, careers, and voting, using the excuse that they are just not capable or it's not womanly. Clearly these women stand out as arguments against that type of thinking, and we need to remember and honour that.
Book References I used and recommended:
Nunn, John F. Ancient Egyptian Medicine. University of Oklahoma Press: 2002.
Allen, James P. The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt. Metropolitan Museum of Art: 2005