Idealists or pragmatists? Progressives and separatists among Australian medical women, 1900-1940.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Soc Hist Med, 2003, 16 (2), pp. 263 - 282
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Histories of Australian medical women have long relied on timeless narratives of valiant "pioneers" battling opponents among the "male profession". The not-so-embedded implications of progress-through-struggle seemed well-suited to a settler society. This article challenges that approach by examining the foundation and development of the Rachel Forster Hospital, a Sydney hospital created in the aftermath of the First World War, and staffed exclusively by women. The article argues that medical history, and particularly the history of women in medicine, needs to be cautious of such well-worn notions as the "male dominance" of medicine, and the assumption that medical practitioners shared a common outlook. I insist, moreover, that separatist medical women and their institutions must be seen in the context of their society, by demonstrating how the choices they made and the reactions they provoked reflected their time and place. The success of the Rachel Forster during the interwar years illustrates the crucial role played by interactions between medical considerations and wider issues of public policy. Sensitivity to the prevailing intellectual and political debates is important in understanding the actions and motivations of medical women in any period.
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