This essay provides a rich and detailed critique of the medical view of women in 19th-century America. As the keywords suggest, the authors cover many topics. To mention a few: the coming of male dominance in medicine; the patronizing and disabling characterization of women as "weak, dependent, diseased," and naturally patients; S. (Silas) Weir Mitchell and his treatment of Charlotte Perkins Gilman; the social role of female invalidism in upper middle class culture; the "scientific" view of woman as evolutionarily devolved; and what the authors call "the expert-woman relationship."


This chapter is an excellent and provocative introduction to the idea that medicine is based in specific cultures--in this case, mostly for the worse! It is a real eye opener for anyone who thinks of medicine as wholly objective or scientific or beneficent. Classroom discussion of this chapter is always lively, and it leads naturally to good questions about medicine today.

For one, while we can be very critical of the outrageous things done 150 years ago in the name of medicine, have we completely eliminated the sexual inequality the authors describe in 19th-century medicine? And, when our descendants in the year 2150 look back at medicine today, what will they think is strange?

The chapter also leads naturally to a nicely contextualized reading of Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (annotated in this database by Jack Coulehan and also by Felice Aull), the fictionalized story of her own suffering under the care of S. Weir Mitchell, the most famous American doctor of his time.

Primary Source

For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women


Doubleday Anchor

Place Published

Garden City, N.Y.



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