Mary Putnam Jacobi and the Politics of Medicine in Nineteenth-Century America

By Carla Bittel

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5947-6
    Published: February 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0644-6
    Published: June 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8008-6
    Published: June 2012

Studies in Social Medicine

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In the late nineteenth century, as Americans debated the "woman question," a battle over the meaning of biology arose in the medical profession. Some medical men claimed that women were naturally weak, that education would make them physically ill, and that women physicians endangered the profession. Mary Putnam Jacobi (1842-1906), a physician from New York, worked to prove them wrong and argued that social restrictions, not biology, threatened female health.

Mary Putnam Jacobi and the Politics of Medicine in Nineteenth-Century America is the first full-length biography of Mary Putnam Jacobi, the most significant woman physician of her era and an outspoken advocate for women's rights. Jacobi rose to national prominence in the 1870s and went on to practice medicine, teach, and conduct research for over three decades. She campaigned for co-education, professional opportunities, labor reform, and suffrage--the most important women's rights issues of her day. Downplaying gender differences, she used the laboratory to prove that women were biologically capable of working, learning, and voting. Science, she believed, held the key to promoting and producing gender equality.

Carla Bittel's biography of Jacobi offers a piercing view of the role of science in nineteenth-century women's rights movements and provides historical perspective on continuing debates about gender and science today.

About the Author

Carla Bittel is associate professor of history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
For more information about Carla Bittel, visit the Author Page.


"Thoroughly researched and well written. . . . The book's depiction of Jacobi's professional and public lives is flawless."--Choice

"A pathbreaking biography of the accomplishments of Mary Putnam Jacobi, the premier science-based female researcher/practicioner of the nineteenth century. . . . A must-read; it richly enhances the scholarship in American cultural studies, the history of medicine, and women's studies."--The Journal of American History

"A major and very welcome addition to the growing literature on the history of women in American medicine. . . . Excellent and closely argued."--Journal of the History of Medicine

"A comprehensive intellectual biography of a critical nineteenth-century thinker. . . . A highly informative read."--Nursing History Review

"This study . . . not only gives us a deep insight into the life and work of Jacobi but also weaves together several related fields within the history of medicine."--Social History of Medicine

"Successful biographies negotiate a perfect balance between the subject's life and the historical context. Carla Bittel has realized such an equilibrium in her groundbreaking study of nineteenth-century physician and feminist Mary Putnam Jacobi. . . . This highly readable study deserves a wide audience."--American Historical Review