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women practitioners.


Like the “tongue-tied” (1.2.28) queen Hermione, women

healers during this period generally had no voice, and could

hardly change the common (patriarchal) view that they were

ignorant, of a lower social class, and even evil. They were, of

course, largely absent from the official medical documents

produced by male practitioners: “the records of proceedings at

the College of Physicians, the reports of the Barber-Surgeons’

Company, and various printed works” (Harkness, 2008: 53).

As it was mainly male authors of medical works who made the

often-cited insulting comments about female healers in the

early modern period, women practitioners “were seldom

identified by occupational titles in surviving records, and

therefore the breadth of their activities is only now being

teased out” (Fissell, 2008: 6). Indeed, women healers are

largely absent from medical records as far back as the Middle

Ages, having been not only deprived of a medical education at

universities and “excluded from guild-based work” but more

generally “seen as [being] outside the central tripartite

structure of early modern medicine” (Fissell, 2008: 6).

While historians have tended to base their views on the

documents of the College of Physicians, the Barbar-Surgeons’

Company, and the prestigious male physicians,



which rigorously object to the notion of female practitioners,

Deborah E. Harkness has looked at records coming from the

streets, in particular parishes, and from the hospitals staffed by

women healers. Harkness concludes that these Elizabethan

women healers “were at the very heart of London’s medical

world. They were not marginal, they were not laughable, and


According to Pelling and Webster, “women practitioners must often have

been described as midwives, or keepers of women in childbed” (1979:



Those eminent physicians of the period, according to Harkness, include John

Securis, John Hall, and William Clowes. See Harkness (2008: 53-68).