Physiology, hygiene and the entry of women to the medical profession in edinburgh C. 1869-c. 1900

Academic physiology, as it was taught by John Hughes Bennett during the 1870s, involved an understanding of the functions of the human body and the physical laws which governed those functions. This knowledge was perceived to be directly relevant and applicable to clinical practice in terms of maintaining bodily hygiene and human health. The first generation of medical women received their physiological education at Edinburgh University under Bennett, who emphasised the importance of physiology for women due to its relevance for the hygienic needs of the family and of society. With the development of laboratory-based science as a distinct aspect of medical education during the later nineteenth century, however, so the direct application of physiology to clinical practice diminished. The understanding of physiology as hygiene was marginalised by the new orthodoxy of scientific medicine. This shift in the physiological paradigm enabled medical women to stake out a specific field of interest within medicine which was omitted from the new definition of physiology as pure medical science: hygiene and preventive medicine. Women physicians were able to take advantage of the shift towards science as the basis of medical theory and practice to define their own specific role within the profession.
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DOI 10.1016/S1369-8486(00)00027-3
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