‘Every woman her own physician’: literary portrayals of lay women medical practitioners on the page and stage in eighteenth-century Britain

Sullivan, Laurence (2022) ‘Every woman her own physician’: literary portrayals of lay women medical practitioners on the page and stage in eighteenth-century Britain. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

Text (Doctoral thesis)
sullivan.laurence_phd (18040769).pdf - Submitted Version

Download (1MB) | Preview


Domestic medicine has long been an area of scholarly interest, with manuscript collections of recipes for household medicines guiding scholars towards a comprehensive understanding of how the public managed matters of health within their own homes in pre-industrial Britain. Yet in excavating such fertile territory, with many such collections having survived to be read and interpreted today, scholars have focused almost exclusively on histories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Consequently, both the eighteenth century and its dynamic proliferation of creative literature in print have been overlooked in the search for information about how day-to-day health management took place across the nation. This thesis seeks to redress this imbalance within existing scholarship by demonstrating how creative literature can offer new insights into the placement and value of women’s domestic medical practice, representing women as empowered to take ownership of their health, that of their household and, potentially, even that of the wider community around them, despite how traditional medical hierarchies of the period excluded them from receiving a formal medical education and associated qualifications.

While, as previous scholars have argued, both men and women were involved in domestic medical practices, the full extent of women’s medical activity and its cultural reception has yet to be uncovered. Employing a broadly historicist approach in combination with close reading and attention to the specificities of genre, this thesis examines how authors including Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), Jane Barker (1652-1732), Susanna Blamire (1747-1794), Paul Hiffernan (1719-1777), and Jesse Foot (1744-1826) depict women medical practitioners and their practice to their respective readers and audiences during the eighteenth century. Each chapter focuses on one or more creative texts by these authors that offer imaginative case studies of women’s domestic medical practice. Didactic and descriptive medical texts offer supporting evidence in each case to build an accurate picture of not only how each author engages with medical topics within households and communities, but also how these texts were situated more broadly in rapidly changing contexts of medicine as they evolved throughout the century.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: eighteenth-century English literature, domestic medicine, medical humanities, gender studies, women in medicine
Subjects: Q300 English studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2023 09:00
Last Modified: 13 Feb 2023 09:00
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/51384

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics