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- Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women Healers
- [PDF] Witches, Midwives, and Nurses (2nd Ed.) (Contemporary Classics by Women (Feminist Press))
- Witches, Midwives, and Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich ePub Download
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The following version of the book was used to create this study guide: Ehrenreich, Barbara and Deidre English. Feminist Press, Second Edition. It explains the political and social context which drove Ehrenreich and English to pen the original manuscript and presents their hypothesis that women have been systematically disempowered when it comes to both their traditional roles as healers and their understanding of their own bodies.
Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women Healers
Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and anatomists of western history. They were abortionists, nurses and counsellors. They were pharmacists, cultivating healing herbs and exchanging the secrets of their uses. They were midwives, travelling from home to home and village to village. For centuries women were doctors without degrees, barred from books and lectures, learning from each other, and passing on experience from neighbor to neighbor and mother to daughter.
Medicine is part of our heritage as women, our history, our birthright. Today, however, health care is the property of male professionals. Ninety-three percent of the doctors in the US are men; and almost all the top directors and administrators of health institutions. Women are still in the overall majority — 70 percent of health workers are women — but we have been incorporated as workers into an industry where the bosses are men.
We are no longer independent practitioners, known by our own names, for our own work. We are, for the most part, institutional fixtures, filling faceless job slots: clerk, dietary aide, technician, maid. When we are allowed to participate in the healing process, we can do so only [as] nurses. Our subservience is reinforced by our ignorance, and our ignorance is enforced.
Nurses are taught not to question, not to challenge. We are told that our subservience is biologically ordained: women are inherently nurse-like and not doctor-like. Sometimes we even try to console ourselves with the theory that we were defeated by anatomy before we were defeated by men, that women have been so trapped by the cycles of menstruation and reproduction that they have never been free and creative agents outside their homes.
Another myth, fostered by conventional medical histories, is that male professionals won out on the strength of their superior technology. But history belies these theories. Women have been autonomous healers, often the only healers for women and the poor. And we found, in the periods we have studied, that, if anything, it was the male professionals who clung to untested doctrines and ritualistic practices — and it was the women healers who represented a more humane, empirical approach to healing.
In this pamphlet we have asked: How did we arrive at our present position of subservience from our former position of leadership? It was an active takeover by male professionals. And it was not science that enabled men to win out: The critical battles took place long before the development of modern scientific technology. The stakes of the struggle were high: Political and economic monopolization of medicine meant control over its institutional organizations, its theory and practice, its profits and prestige.
The suppression of female healers by the medical establishment was a political struggle, first, in that it is part of the history of sex struggle in general. The status of women healers has risen and fallen with the status of women When women healers were attacked, they were attacked as Women ; when they fought back, they fought back in solidarity with all women. It was a political struggle, second, in that it was part of a class struggle.
Male professionals, on the other hand, served the ruling class — both medically and politically. Their interests have been advanced by the universities, the philanthropic foundations and the law. They owe their victory — not so much to their own efforts — but to the intervention of the ruling class they served. This pamphlet represents a beginning of the research which will have to be done to recapture our history as health workers.
We confined ourselves to western history, since the institutions we confront today are the products of western civilization. We are far from being able to present a complete chronological history. Instead, we looked at two separate, important phases in the male takeover of health care: the suppression of witches in medieval Europe, and the rise of the male medical profession in 19th century America.
Witches lived and were burned long before the development of modern medical technology. The other side of the suppression of witches as healers was the creation of a new male medical profession, under the protection and patronage of the ruling classes. Thomas Szasz, The Manufacture of Madness. The witch-hunts left a lasting effect: An aspect of the female has ever since been associated with the witch, and an aura of contamination has remained — especially around the midwife and other women healers.
This early and devastating exclusion of women from independent healing roles was a violent precedent and a warning: It was to become a theme of our history. The age of witch-hunting spanned more than four centuries from the 14th to the 17th century in its sweep from Germany to England. Witches represented a political, religious and sexual threat to the Protestant and Catholic churches alike, as well as to the state.
The extent of the witch-craze is startling: In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries there were thousands upon thousands of executions — usually live burnings at the stake — in Germany, Italy and other countries. In the mid-sixteenth century the terror spread to France, and finally to England. At Toulouse, four-hundred were put to death in a day.
In the Bishopric of Trier, in , two villages were left with only one female inhabitant each. Many writers have estimated the total number killed to have been in the millions. Women made up some 85 percent of those executed — old women, young women and children. These trials occurred on a relatively small scale, very late in the history of witch-hunts, and in an entirely different social context than the earlier European witch-craze. Their scope alone suggests that the witch hunts represent a deep-seated social phenomenon which goes far beyond the history of medicine.
In locale and timing, the most virulent witch hunts were associated with periods of great social upheaval shaking feudalism at its roots — mass peasant uprisings and conspiracies, the beginnings of capitalism, and the rise of Protestantism. There is fragmentary evidence — which feminists ought to follow up — suggesting that in some areas witchcraft represented a female-led peasant rebellion. Unfortunately, the witch herself — poor and illiterate — did not leave us her story.
It was recorded, like all history, by the educated elite, so that today we know the witch only through the eyes of her persecutors. Two of the most common theories of the witch hunts are basically medical interpretations, attributing the witch craze to unexplainable outbreaks of mass hysteria. One version has it that the peasantry went mad. According to this, the witch-craze was an epidemic of mass hatred and panic cast in images of a blood-lusty peasant mob bearing flaming torches.
Another psychiatric interpretation holds that the witches themselves were insane. One authoritative psychiatric historian, Gregory Zilboorg, wrote that:. But, in fact, the witch-craze was neither a lynching party nor a mass suicide by hysterical women. Rather, it followed well-ordered, legalistic procedures. The witch-hunts were well-organized campaigns, initiated, financed and executed by Church and State. For three centuries this sadistic book lay on the bench of every judge, every witch-hunter.
The job of initiating a witch trial was to be performed by either the Vicar priest or Judge of the County, who was to post a notice to. Anyone failing to report a witch faced both excommunication and a long list of temporal punishments.
If this threatening notice exposed at least one witch, her trial could be used to unearth several more. Kramer and Sprenger gave detailed instructions about the use of tortures to force confessions and further accusations.
The point is obvious: The witch-craze did not arise spontaneously in the peasantry. It was a calculated ruling class campaign of terrorization. But three central accusations emerge repeatedly in the history of witchcraft throughout northern Europe: First, witches are accused of every conceivable sexual crime against men.
Second, they are accused of being organized. Third, they are accused of having magical powers affecting health — of harming, but also of healing. They were often charged specifically with possessing medical and obstetrical skills. First, consider the charge of sexual crimes. The homunculus is not really safe, however, until it reaches male hands again, when a priest baptises it, ensuring the salvation of its immortal soul. Another depressing fantasy of some medieval religious thinkers was that upon resurrection all human beings would be reborn as men!
The Church associated women with sex, and all pleasure in sex was condemned, because it could only come from the devil.
Witches were supposed to have gotten pleasure from copulation with the devil despite the icy-cold organ he was reputed to possess and they in turn infected men. Lust in either man or wife, then, was blamed on the female. On the other hand, witches were accused of making men impotent and of causing their penises to disappear. As for female sexuality, witches were accused, in effect, of giving contraceptive aid and of performing abortions:.
Now there are, as it is said in the Papal Bull, seven methods by which they infect with witchcraft the venereal act and the conception of the womb: First, by inclining the minds of men to inordinate passion; second, by obstructing their generative force; third, by removing the members accommodated to that act; fourth, by changing men into beasts by their magic act; fifth, by destroying the generative force in women; sixth, by procuring abortion; seventh, by offering children to the devils, besides other animals and fruits of the earth with which they work much charm Malleus Maleficarum.
Her career began with sexual intercourse with the devil. In return for her powers, the witch promised to serve him faithfully. In the imagination of the Church even evil could only be thought of as ultimately male-directed! As the Malleus makes clear, the devil almost always acts through the female, just as he did in Eden:. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable Wherefore for the sake of fulfilling their lusts they consort with devils And blessed be the Highest Who has so far preserved the male sex from so great a crime Not only were the witches women — they were women who seemed to be organized into an enormous secret society.
Bestialism and mass orgies? So went their lurid speculations In fact, there is evidence that women accused of being witches did meet locally in small groups and that these groups came together in crowds of hundreds or thousands on festival days. Some writers speculate that the meetings were occasions for pagan religious worship. Undoubtedly the meetings were also occasions for trading herbal lore and passing on the news.
Any peasant organization, just by being an organization, would attract dissidents, increase communication between villages, and build a spirit of collectivity and autonomy among the peasants.
We come now to the most fantastic accusation of all: The witch is accused not only of murdering and poisoning, sex crimes and conspiracy — but of helping and healing. As a leading English witch-hunter put it:.
[PDF] Witches, Midwives, and Nurses (2nd Ed.) (Contemporary Classics by Women (Feminist Press))
Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and anatomists of Western history. They were abortionists, nurses, and counsellors.
Witches, Midwives, and Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich ePub Download
Secrets are revealed almost to the end. The novel is filled with secrets, betrayal, loss, death, forgiveness, redemption, with love shining through. It is a good compelling story, engaging, and easy to read. This is the perfect holiday novel, you can pick it up and get straight back into the story.
Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and anatomists of western history. They were abortionists, nurses and counsellors. They were pharmacists, cultivating healing herbs and exchanging the secrets of their uses.
For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women
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