A Woman to Know: Trotula

All women revealed their thoughts more readily to her than to any man, and told her their natures. — Placides and Timeus

(image credit: John William Waterhouse)

In the middle ages, people believed that women got sick to punish them for sorcery, that childbirth *should* be excruciatingly painful to remind women of Eve's biting the apple, and that women frequently "made up" pain or diseases to bewitch their husbands.

Enter Trotula, the world's first gynecologist, and one of the most important doctors in 11th century Europe. Trotula rose to prominence at the Medical School of Salerno, Italy, the only medical school in Europe to admit female students. In her coursework, Trotula advocated for sedation during childbirth (thank GOD for Trotula) and introduced such revolutionary ideas as hey, maybe all female pain isn't punishment for past sin and hey, maybe women can practice medicine, too.

Her ideas are gathered in three medical volumes, The Trotula: The Diseases of Women, that she may or may not have penned herself -- in any case, her books were the only contemporary texts written to educate men on the female body, and The Trotula remains a blueprint for pre-modern women's healthcare.

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