Retired Pharmacist Marla Ahlgrimm on Women’s Role in Medicine

Marla AhlgrimmMedicine has been a male dominated industry since the 1400s. Marla Ahlgrimm, one of the most prominent pharmacists and women’s healthcare experts of the last century, says that women have always played an important role in healthcare. Here, the author and speaker shares a peek into the history of two of the women who paved the path to her own career.

Prior to the 1400s, women were heavily involved in the health and medical care of those in their community, says Marla Ahlgrimm. That changed when Europe declared that only those with a university degree could practice medicine of any kind. At the time, and largely throughout the next 500 years, women were not allowed to attend college and therefore were ineligible for medical licensure.

The first accepted woman doctor was an Italian named Trotula di Ruggiero, reports Marla Ahlgrimm. Trotula of Salerno, as she would become known, is considered the mother of gynecology and was a pioneer in reproductive health. Trotula theorized that defects in both men and women could be the cause of failed conception, a very unpopular opinion in her lifetime, which is disputed as having been anywhere between the 800s and 1100s. In fact, Marla Ahlgrimm laments that Trotula’s gender was even disputed for centuries, as many male physicians couldn’t fathom her innovative work as having been done by a woman.

During the Renaissance, women remained mostly unable to attend school for medicine. However, a woman named Dr. Laura Bassi (another Italian) become the first female professor at the University of Bologna when she was appointed to head the Department of Anatomy. Bassi would go on to accept a position as a psychology professor at the same university. Marla Ahlgrimm notes that Bassi was educated at home and, as the child of a wealthy family, had far more opportunities than lesser stationed women of the time.

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