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Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,307 Ratings  ·  122 Reviews
As we watch another agonizing attempt to shift the future of health care in the United States, we are reminded of the longevity of this crisis, and how firmly entrenched we are in a system that doesn't work. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, first published by The Feminist Press in 1973, is an essential book about the corruption of the medical establishment and its historic r ...more
ebook, Second Edition, 112 pages
Published July 1st 2010 by Feminist Press (first published November 30th 1970)
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Sophie Bachman Not at all! It's a rather brief history without much medical detail, a quick and easy read.
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Ivonne Rovira
Jul 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Is Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, first published in 1970, a bit dated? Yes. Does it contain an excellent history of how healing women (who once acted as midwives, yes, but as general healers as well) were first diminished by being deemed witches and then shunted into the supporting role of nurse? Yes, as well. This slim volume still makes for excellent reading, particularly to see how the Church and the emerging physicians’ associations made common cause in keeping wo ...more
Diana Bogan
I am a fan of Barbara Ehrenreich's work as well as a fan of midwifery, and so it was with great interest that I picked up this pamphlet. However, I naively expected it to go in depth into the history of midwifery and women healers. I was not anticipating that having been written two years before I was born, the over-riding feminist perspective and thesis of this work. I have never stopped to consider that the nursing profession is a way of oppressing women and keeping them locked into the mother ...more
Dec 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I adored this book, especially since the authors included a caveat at the beginning which attempted to neutralize any overly-vehement or one-sided arguments, "...we ... cringe a little at what read now like overstatements and overly militant ways of stating things." From what I've read of Ehrenreich's work, I wonder if more of her books wouldn't be better-served to have this type of warning in the introduction.

Nevertheless, I was able to overlook what I thought were glaring omissions. For exampl
Jan 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health-care, nursing, 2012
This pamphlet obviously has some dated info. The statistics about male to female med school ratios are laughable in our time where numbers have largely equalized. Still, one of the main reasons I did not choose medical school as my own entry into healthcare is the ongoing if not out right patriarchy of medicine then at least its overbearing paternalism. I don’t think the answer necessarily will come from direct reform of the professional role of physician as much as it will come from the diversi ...more
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English traces the systematic and systemic persecution of women as healers beginning with the witch-hunt craze of the 14th through 17th centuries up to the early 20th Century. As Ehrenreich and English demonstrate, women have always been healers, primarily healers of women and the poor. But their journey has been fraught with peril. For over five centuries they faced a systematic, two-pronged attack on the ...more
This was quite an interesting read for a non-feminist, 21st century medical student. From 1972, Barbara and Deirdre bring us an academic, synthesized approach to the History of female health professionals. It is quite obvious that women have always been the cornerstone of the medical arts, but for some obscure reason have never been regarded as so.
In the dark ages, we called them witches, inferior to the rational knowledge of physicians and sought out feverishly, for even when their treatments
Renée Yoxon
From the perspective of a patient in the medical system today, I really enjoyed reading this and I would be really interested in reading some of the sources in the bibliography. I would be curious what today's nurses and women doctors think about some of the conclusions. I wonder how they hold up after 50 years.
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading the history of women healers and the development of the medical profession was fascinating. However, I was surprised at the authors' conclusions on the nursing profession at present. The authors state, 'The drive to professionalize nursing is, at best, a flight from the reality of sexism in the health system.'...a completely absurd statement and a very outdated perspective. It is truly a profession that requires skill and intelligence, in addition to showing compassion and 'nurturing ten ...more
For a rather academic text, this is an easy read. It's organized in short chapters, (it's only 48 pages total), and lays out historical events in a clear narrative. It's dry, but you'll get an infuriating picture of how classism and sexism helped ruin our healthcare system and how the medical profession reinforces that classism and sexism. You'll also get more evidence that Barbara Ehrenreich is bad-ass.
A nice essay, but quite dated and opinionated at times. I wish there were an updated essay on this topic, as the authors note some information has since been proven incorrect. I love the topics combined: witches and midwives and nurses oh my! As a nurse and lover of midwifery with a huge interest in witches, I was expecting more cohesiveness. A good intro. Needs revision with more references.
G. Lawrence
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short, but interesting read
Apr 29, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book managed to piss me off with its shoddy scholarship. It read as one long thesis statement with little evidence to back it up. There were only 17 books in the bibliography for a pamphlet that was supposed to span Middle Ages to the 1970s.

Objective language is thrown out the window and history is given a value-judgment without much struggle in arriving at that value-judgment. The historian, whether feminist or not, will cringe at some of the value-laden words used in this small pamphlet.
Oriyah Nitkin
Although I'm pretty well-versed in the history of obstetric care in the US, this pamphlet gave somewhat of a broader societal context and analysis of how this came to be. It's amazing to see how far women have come in society since this text was written, but at the same time, how much work still needs to be done, and what valuable knowledge was lost to us due to the oppression and suppression of women as healers in times past.

There was a blatant "feminist theorizing" flavor to the book. As a fe
May 05, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was written when I was a preschooler, and it just boggles my mind what a different world it was back then. My mother has said that she started college studying pharmacology but after a year or two her father told her it was time to get serious and her career options were to be a nurse (as her SIL did) or be a teacher, which she chose and then hated.

I would be very interested in learning more of the history of women healers, as the subtitle of this book says it is, but this felt much m
Oct 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Way more a treatise than anything, this little booklet appeared early-ish in Ehrenreich's career, clearly indicating the direction she would take as a critic of contemporary society. Excellent critique of the history of (mostly Western) healing. 5 stars for content and criticism. If you're not into feminist critique, don't bother. Her essay "Welcome to Cancerland," though, is an eye-opener for all women with breasts This history of women healers provides a rock-solid foundation for understanding ...more
Sep 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nurses, midwives, nurse-midwives, feminists, humans
A quick read that summarizes things that I've heard/read/intuited/somehow learned before, with additional elaboration and actual dates and times - tells the story of the Goddess-worshipping women that the men of the Catholic Church were so afraid of, with their healing powers and lack of sexual shame - and how that battle between ideologies and genders has been carried through today. Amazingly timely, considering it was written quite a while ago - unfortunately. It shows the inherent unease in t ...more
Funny story about how I came to own an original copy of this. The women's center at my alma mater was dismantled, sad story, and all of the books were left out in the campus center. I was looking through and thought this was of interest. I didn't pick it up until about 5 years later when I was doing research on childbirth and picked up For Her Own Good and read the introduction and realized that For Her Own Good is an expanded version of this pamphlet.
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-reads
Although I would have liked more specific information on women's roles as lay healers and why they were lay healers (as opposed to men), I really enjoyed this book. I love learning about forgotten women's history, and this is, of course, a very important chapter. :D
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brief feminist treatment of the history of medicine. Its claims are astounding and illuminating. I see lots of room for future historians and writers to develop a lot of the themes raised in this volume.
Very strange and interesting historical synopsis. Less is focused on nurses but like the author, who has written Nickel and Dimed which is a life changing book about the less-employed in US
Apr 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Très instructif, intéressant et très bien traduit. Lecture rapide et agréable.
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
When I saw the title, Witches Midwives & Nurses, and a recommendation for this book, I was hoping to find a comprehensive look at the history of women healers throughout the ages. After all, the subtitle is A History of Women Healers, but this book isn’t about the skill and knowledge women used in healing. It’s about the attempts to destroy them by the church, state, and men in the medical community.

Written in 1973, this slim volume is a quick overview of stories and events that warrant far
Jun 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the interest of context for an intro to my own book I'm in the middle of writing, I wanted to read the updated intro and review the old pamphlet... and of course as other reviewers have noted it's quite dated. But the glaring omission I see beyond just the lack of historical information they didn't have access to- is the total ignoring of Osteopathic medicine, which was started around the civil war, in Missouri, with the express purpose of being more holistic and avoiding the butchery and non ...more
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, feminism
Interesting but flawed little volume. I read the 2010 second edition, which includes the text of the original 1973 edition, with a hot mess of a new introduction. The intro to the 2nd edition is terrible--its editing is shamefully bad, and it acknowledges flaws in the first edition without doing much at all to correct them.

It also lowers expectations for the rest of the book, so I was pleasantly surprised that it actually does contain some accurate history. For instance, the brief outline here
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book argues a sexist motivation for creating a "professional class" of doctors and then nurses as a way to disenfranchise, de-legitimize, and demean women's standing and function as healers and midwives. This was the second time in a half-dozen books I'd read a take-down of professional certification and the "professional class," the first time being in "Listen Liberal." I'm guessing these are older, Marxist ideas, but seeing them in a radical feminist context and a critique of the Democrat ...more
Probably only of interest to a natural healer or nurse. It is a BRIEF overview of the domination of the healing field by Flexner who presided over the courts of medical acceptance and single handedly ruined most medical paths for blacks and women. But then, he was only the henchman. The real wizards behind modern medicine and exclusivity remain hidden, even to this day.

Nothing new for me. Just interesting new take from the feminist point of view.
Alejandra Arroz
A brief take on how (white) women were systematically excluded from the healthcare field and how nursing was gendered as a female enterprise. Lacks an intersectional discussion of black midwives in the South, despite their mention in the updated forward, but does highlight the ways in which early white feminists often seemed to sabotage their cause by internalizing aspects of the Victorian "Cult of True Womanhood."
I had to keep reminding myself that this was a pamphlet and researched before all the researched about this came afterward - this small tome started the study serious studies of witches and women in the medical profession. I didn't learn anything new, and some of the sources proven false, which the authors admit in the new preface.

Okay but dated.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super quick read. I actually liked caliban and the witch better, another book about medicine women and the witch trials. I think this one is a necessary book and an awesome starting place for people interested in feminist health care. I realized I read the zine many years ago and didn't realize it was republished by feminist press with new intros.
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an important book, and I liked the new introduction in the 2010 edition. I would have loved a more rigorous update of the material and the absolutely zero citations for the images hurt my librarian heart, but all in all an important and excellent treatise.
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Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist and the bestselling author of sixteen previous books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harpers and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time Magazine.
More about Barbara Ehrenreich...

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“Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and anatomists. They were abortionists, nurses and counselors. They were the pharmacists, cultivating healing herbs, and exchanging the secrets of their uses. They were midwives, traveling 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. They were called “wise women” by the people, witches or charlatans by the authorities. Medicine is part of our heritage as women, our history, our birthright.” 5 likes
“We were not supposed to know anything about our own bodies or to participate in decision-making about our own care.” 0 likes
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