03/05/21

Women’s History Month: Celebrating women in obstetrics

To commemorate Women’s History Month, Ob Hospitalist Group is celebrating the generations of women who have dedicated their lives and careers to delivering babies.

Unsurprisingly, women were recorded as the earliest birth attendants to their female relatives. They are depicted in ancient drawings and cited in ancient mythology. The term “midwife” was later used to describe this role – mid meaning “with” and wyf meaning “woman.” And the term “obstetrics” actually comes from the Latin word for midwife – “obstetrix” (source).

In the 17th and 18th centuries, physicians, mostly male, became more involved in childbirth. According to the article Women, Power, and Reproductive Healthcare, the physicians used more advanced medical and sanitation practices and excluded midwives, who were mostly female.

For centuries, women fought for the ability to go to medical school and become physicians. In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female to earn her medical degree in the U.S. and completed her post-graduate work in obstetrics. Blackwell developed the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children, that enabled aspiring female physicians and nurses to gain an education. As medical colleges continued to reject female applicants, separate medical schools for women were established. In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman to earn a formal medical degree which she attained at the New England Female Medical College, now the Boston University School of Medicine.

By the end of the 19th century, female physicians comprised about 5.5% of the total number of doctors in the U.S. – about 7,000. In 1974, 22.4% of new medical school entrants were women and by the close of the 20th century, the percentage rose to 45.6%!

New medical interventions emerged in the obstetrics field in the 1930s, including anesthetics and epidurals, which became routine practices in childbirth. As a result, many women wanted a more natural childbirth experience, and the role of the midwife reemerged in the 1970s and 1980s.

Women have come a long way in the medical field. Today in the U.S. approximately 60% of OB/GYNs and 98% of midwives are female. Of Ob Hospitalist Group’s 1,070 employed OB clinicians, 62% are women. Additionally, seven out of 13 members of OBHG’s clinical leadership team are female. Although it took centuries for women to gain equal footing in the medical profession, we are fortunate to have so many talented, dedicated and passionate women on our team.