January, 5, 2011

Medical Practice by Women in Zion

A few decades after the Latter-day Saints took refuge in Utah, they realized the increasing need for more competent medical education that could be obtained at reputable schools back east.

The next step was to persuade Church President Brigham Young, who was skeptical about the extreme methods among doctors in his era. However, by 1872 President Young became more confident in the remedies medical schools could offer. He called his nephew Seymour B. Young to study medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and continued to call many individuals to study medicine in the East.

As the number of physicians increased, the customary midwives were gradually forced out of work by trained male doctors. Mormon women felt it degrading for a man to attend a woman in childbirth or to treat any female disorders.

At a meeting of the Cooperative or General Retrenchment Association in July 1873, Bathsheba W. Smith remarked that President Young “had suggested to her that three women from each ward in the city be chosen to form a class for studying obstetrics.”  However, Eliza R. Snow insisted that if women were to be considered equal with men in the medical profession, they would have to be trained at the same schools and armed with the same degrees:  “We want sister physicians that can officiate and unless they educate themselves the gentlemen that are flocking in our midst will do it.”

It became increasingly evident that women would need to be trained and educated in medicine to provide proper medical care for their sisters. Brigham Young, persuaded of this need, made the following announcement in 1873:

“If some women had the privilege of studying they would make as good mathematicians as any man. We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, and raise babies, but that they should study law . . . or physics . . . . The time has come for women to come forth as doctors in these valleys of the mountains.”

The problem had been recognized and the work of educating women in the science and art of midwifery and general medicine could begin.