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Books, Journals, New Media
November 10, 1999

Women and HealthWomen and Health in America

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 1999;282(18):1777-1779. doi:10.1001/jama.282.18.1777-JBK1110-4-1

This state-of-the-art collection of historical essays offers readers a comprehensive, chronological narrative about women and health in the United States. Like the 1984 edition, it is the only collection of its kind and quality, and I recommend it for medical and nursing schools, for clinicians in any area of women's health, and for university and hospital health sciences libraries.

Organized by historical period and then by topic, these 35 essays, all written by distinguished historians or rising stars in medicine and women's health, examine women as patients and providers from the colonial to the modern period. Following the editor's useful introduction, the seven opening essays trace their respective subjects through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Detailed case studies based on contemporary documents offer especially vivid testimony: Cornelia Hughes Dayton, for example, uses court records to recount a young unmarried woman's fatal attempt to end her pregnancy in 1742 and its lingering impact on her community; Laurel Thatcher Ulrich traces the long and successful career of the midwife Martha Moore Ballard, whose daily diary furnishes a uniquely detailed record of her practice from 1785 to 1812 in rural Maine; and Susan Garfinkel draws on a rich personal correspondence to relate one woman's experience with breast cancer in 1814. Also drawing upon new or previously overlooked evidence, the other essays revisit and reinterpret such historical questions as the degree of cultural diversity in birthing practices among Native American women (answer: considerable), women's anxieties about childbirth (which persisted until early 20th century public health reforms lowered infant death rates), and the assumed elite nature of female invalidism among women in the 19th century (in fact, it was experienced by African-American women as well as by middle- and upper-class white women).

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