The country housewife, too, was expected to look after the bodies of her household in sickness as well as in health, and it was necessary for her to have a certain skill in physic and surgery. Life was far less professionalized in the Middle Ages; a doctor was not to be found round every corner, and though the great lady in her town house or the wealthy bourgeoise might find a physician from Oxford or Paris or Salerno within reach, some one had to be ready to deal with emergencies on the lonely manors. […]

If, however, a woman set up practice as a physician outside the limits of her home and pretended to something more than the skill of an amateur or a witch, there forthwith arose an outcry which seems to foreshadow the opposition of the medical profession to the entrance of women in the nineteenth century. The case of the doctors was a respectable one; the women had no medical degrees and therefore no knowledge or training. Nevertheless there were women here and there who acquired considerable fame as physicians. The most interesting of them is the well-born lady Jacoba Felicie, who in 1322, being then about thirty years of age, was prosecuted by the Medical Faculty at Paris on a charge of contravening the statute which forbade any one to practise medicine in the city and suburbs without the Faculty’s degree and the Chancellor’s licence…Her skill seems to have been undoubted, one witness stating that ‘he had heard it said by several that she was wiser in the art of surgery and medicine than the greatest master doctor or surgeon in Paris’.

Nevertheless she was inhibited; but as she had already disregarded a previous inhibition and a heavy fine, she probably continued as before to practice her healing profession.

C. G. Crump & E.F. Jacob, The Legacy of the Middle Ages (1951)


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