Sunday, October 17, 2010

Was Your Female Ancestor a Physician?

Every week I write and edit the WorldVitalRecords newsletter.  This last week I wrote about using almanacs for your genealogy. (To read this article click here) I just love finding sources that aren't the everyday "genealogy" sources and see how they can help genealogists find their ancestors.

So I'm writing my article and going through one of the almanacs which includes a business directory and I see a list of physicians. I turn some pages and notice that all the physicians are women. Mind you this is a Boston Almanac/Business Directory from 1878.

So I do a double take and find that this section is indeed female physicians, all 1 1/4 pages of them. 

Now mind you this list of "physicians" includes midwives and phrenologists but this list also is one of women who are M.D.s  To put this in a historical perspective, this list of women doctors are practicing 29 years after the first woman in the United States, Elizabeth Blackwell, earned a medical degree. But in that relatively short time, Boston has 84 women identified as physicians.

This says something to me that we need to watch our assumptions about our female ancestors. Yes, women have always been relegated to the home where they cook, clean and take care of others. Yes, women are disproportionately absent from official records. But don't count women out, they can be found but sometimes it takes looking in unexpected places.

This almanac and other Boston almanacs are available from Google Books have a great business directory section, I highly recommend them if you have Boston ancestors.

***Above screen shots from The Boston Almanac and Business Directory (1878) pages 364-365.  Available from Google Books.

No comments: