Marla Ahlgrimm Reflects on Women in Medical History

Marla ahlgrimmWithout women like Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and Dr. Mary Walker, Marla Ahlgrimm may have never had the opportunity to work in medicine. Here, the retired pharmacist reflects on her foremothers in the hopes that a new generation of female healthcare providers might remember that women were not always on top in the medical field.

Q: When were women first accepted as medical providers?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Women’s role in medicine actually dates back to ancient times. As far back as 1500 BCE, there were women studying medicine in Egypt. Greek mythology tells of four granddaughters of Apollo who were respected physicians.

Q: So why did women have issues working in medicine later on?

Marla Ahlgrimm: In the middle ages – largely accepted as the 11th century through 16th century – women were relegated to domestic duties as a male dominated attitude emerged throughout society. There were bright spots for women throughout this time, however. In Salerno, Italy, women were still encouraged to practice medical professionals and it was then that the first OB/GYN, Tortula, who wrote the first book on midwifery, established her practice.

Q: Who was the first woman doctor?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Researchers are still not 100% sure who the first female doctor in modern times was. It is widely accepted that the first woman doctor in the United States was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. Dr. Blackwell was allowed to enter Geneva Medical College after her admission was put to a vote by the all-male student body. It’s believed she was voted in to prove that a woman could never succeed; she graduated in 1849 and went on to open the Women’s Medical College of New York.

Q: There is still a gap between the sexes in medicine. Why?

Marla Ahlgrimm: In medicine as with all high-stress careers, many women choose to become mothers and remain in the home. However, in addition to personal lifestyle choices, economic and social factors also play a role.

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