Sinéad Spearing reveals the stories of forgotten women in history who worked as physicians and found themselves demonized by society for their work. While these women were the opposite of the witch stereotype as they often traveled from village to village sharing their skills and healing those in need, but ultimately they were decried as doing evil magics and in many cases labeled as witches. Spearing draws from archaeological evidence, folklore, literature, and a variety of other sources to reveal the truly incredible female healers in her book A History of Women in Medicine: Cunning Women, Physicians, Witches.
In her introduction Spearing begins by discussing archaeological finds that tie into what many anthropologists have believed, which is that women were part of the field of medicine. Bodies have been found with items that could be seen as evidence of working within the field of medicine, but also of some of these women being shunned in death for this work. Something that is crucial to her work is the idea that beginning as far back as the time of Saint Augustine, women were connected to the insidious elements of witchcraft. Spearing’s work is designed to lift up the women and their voices, which have been silenced for so long in the historical record. She delves into burials early on and then continues by using an unnamed woman as her focus for examining the connects of a ‘doctor’s bag,’ which allows her to delve into practices and treatments possibly used by female physicians. Spearing argues that the tools found in these graves are not found in the graves of men. Beyond healing practices she also discusses cunning women and the idea of using slightly more mystical seeming elements to get answers.
I have always been fascinated by the history of women and their connection to witchcraft. At an early age I was obsessed with Salem and the events that took place there and over time I began delving into the history of witch trials in Europe. This love perfectly dovetailed with Spearing’s historical focus. While I did not always delve as far back into the historical record in my own work, but I was very pleased to find I remembered some of the history she was discussing. A History of Women in Medicine provides a rich history of a topic that does not frequently appear within popular culture or the historical record, but it connects well with a number of topics that often receive more focus. Readers who enjoy the history of witches, witch trials, magic, or medicine will find this book to be a delight and beyond that anyone who wants to know more about the history of women will enjoy this book. You can get your copy of A History of Women in Medicine: Cunning Women, Physicians, and Witches from Pen & Sword today.