From the December Issue: Sarah Orne Jewett’s depictions of women in a changing medical profession

Today, we are pleased to preview an [open access] article from the December issue by Catherine Hand. She is a third year medical student at Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine with degrees in English literature from the University of Dallas and Wichita State University. Her research interests include rural healthcare and the history of medicine, and today, her work looks at Sarah Orne Jewett’s depictions of women in a changing medical profession: Nan Prince and Almira Todd.

SUMMARY

Sarah Orne Jewett was a novelist who lived from 1849 to 1909. She was interested in medicine and witnessed a revolution in the field during this historical period. This article compares two of Jewett’s works, one written at the outset of her career and the other written much later. Both novels demonstrate Jewett’s views about women’s roles in medicine. In the first novel, A Country Doctor, a young Jewett celebrates the new-found power of scientific medicine. The author depicts a female physician as a pioneer bravely breaking into a male-dominated field. Later, in The Country of the Pointed Firs, Jewett’s depiction of a female medical practitioner is more nuanced— by this time the matured novelist’s views included criticisms of medical ideology as she saw it developing. The comparison of these novels gives us insight into Jewett’s world, and leaves questions for readers today. Notably, how does misogyny in the history of American medicine affect us now?

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