Book Review: The Doctor Wore Petticoats by Chris Enss

Book Review: The Doctor Wore Petticoats by Chris Enss

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A bit of historical research turned into a great deal of enjoyment and reading for pleasure.

I had to remind myself to pick up the highlighter.

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Kristin Holt review: 5 out of 5 stars (image of five glossy gold stars)

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I’m most impressed with Chris Enss‘s ability to capture the true historic tales of women in American history, compile their stories, and bring it all together with the kind of ease in reading that makes one forget it’s nonfiction.

The same thing happened when I read Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier by Chris Enss. I read Hearts West for research, and before I knew it, I’d ‘fallen in’ and read with all the fervor of a well-written western historical romance. I knew The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West would meet Enss’s standard of quality, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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Chriss Enss, author of The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West, Related to Book Review: The Doctor Wore Petticoats by Chris Enss.

Chriss Enss, author of The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West.

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The Doctor Wore Petticoats speaks of 12 different physicians (two of them dentists), their stories, their reasons for pursuing a career in medicine, the school(s) attended, tales of their families (and marriages, many of which failed), and the communities they served. At a time in history when men and women alike adamantly opposed female doctors, the forces against these pioneers were tremendous. Each chapter’s biography illustrates characteristics of perseverance, determination, confidence, and a lifelong dream of making a difference.

I’m a registered nurse who knows little of medical training in the 1800’s. I found the quantity of years’ study in medical school interesting. In the earlier decades, some of the women completed training in two years. By the end of the century, medical school required a full four years.

The 127-page paperback edition begins with an introduction setting the stage. The reader is presented with recorded statements from books, medical journals, a protest resolution at Harvard University, and journals. Each illustrates the pervasive attitude of the Victorian-Era American.

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Higher education for women produces monstrous brains and puny bodies; abnormally active cerebration and abnormally weak digestion; flowing thought and constipated bowel.

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~ E. H. Clarke, Sex Education: A  Fair Chance for Girls, 1873, cited by Enss, The Doctor Wore Petticoats, xi

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At the conclusion of eleven chapters introducing each doctor’s life and contributions to medicine, a brief chapter on Frontier Medicine. It’s both good for a chuckle and evokes compassion for the women who fought valiantly to improve understanding of health and nutrition against “granny remedies.” Apparently the home remedies for a variety of illnesses from nausea to typhoid weren’t merely ineffective… some were deadly.

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Victorian-American Home Remedies of all kinds, specific to headaches.

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Not only did female doctors have to withstand prejudice against their sex, they also had to fight against barbaric remedies that had been passed down from generation to generation. Myths–such as believing a person could preserve his teeth and eliminate mouth order by rinsing his mouth every morning with his own urine, or that mold scraped from cheese could heal open sores–had to be dispelled.

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Some medicines, like herb teas and drawing poultices, brought relief, but most had no effect at all. Indeed many of these remedies did more harm than good.

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~The Doctor Wore Petticoats, Chris Enss, pp 111-112

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The concluding chapter, Advertisements and Women Physicians was perhaps the crowning jewel. Enss beautifully related Doctor Elise Pfeiffer Stone‘s experience surrounding the March 5, 1888 edition of a Nevada City, California newspaper. I saw Dr. Stone’s triumph in my mind’s eye… and felt compassion for the bullying she endured. As the author (Chris Enss) so competently presents, Dr. Elise Stone’s experience mirrors that of so many other women physicians at a time. They fought not only for their own freedom to pursue higher education, to better themselves, and to work in a field closed to them; they fought for such freedom for all women. True pioneers, all.

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Widely circulated medical journals stating how “doubtful it was that women could accomplish any good in medicine” kept women doctors from being hired. They criticized women for wanting to “leave their position as a wife and mother,” and warned the public of the physical problems that would keep women from being professionals. An 1895 Pacific Medical Journal article promised:

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Obviously there are many vocations in life which women cannot follow; more than this there are many psychological phenomena connected with ovulation, menstruation and parturition which preclude service in various directions. One of those directions is medicine.

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~The Doctor Wore Petticoats, Chris Enss, pp 52-53

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A five-page bibliography concludes this enjoyable foray into American history and the plight of women from various regions of the country. Each wanted to learn all they could about the human body and to make a significant difference in their communities, to help the one, to help the many. As one truly fond of history, I appreciate a careful bibliography, ’cause I simply need to know where the information came from.

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Who is this book for?

I believe this book will be well-enjoyed by:

  1. All who love History, particularly American History
  2. All who love the Old West
  3. Fans of Western Historical Romance… for the more we comprehend about the true historical setting, all the better able we are to our favorite fictional stories.

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This title is available in both Kindle edition and in paperback.

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Used Paperback Copies

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Don’t Miss Out!

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A trilogy: three romances about three profession women. One doctor, one attorney, one dentist. Each finds the one perfect man who loves her just as she is… educated and all.

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Book Review: The Doctor Wore Petticoats by  Chris Enss
Updated November 2019
Copyright © 2015 Kristin Holt LC