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Title page for ETD etd-07022006-180442

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Choi, Yeo Ju
URN etd-07022006-180442
Title Crafting the "She-Doctor": Henry James' Dr. Mary J. Prance
Degree Master of Arts
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jay Clayton Committee Chair
Dana Nelson Committee Member
Lynn Enterline Committee Member
  • women in medicine
  • Sophia Jex-Blake
  • history of women
  • midwifery
  • Mary Wager
  • Elizabeth Blackwell
  • Henry James
  • The Bostonians
Date of Defense 2006-06-29
Availability unrestricted
Women pioneers who entered the medical profession in the latter half of the nineteenth century encountered strong antagonism from their male medical contemporaries. Some medical women such as Elizabeth Blackwell embraced the critics’ essentialist charges of being unfit for medicine due to their feminine tender and nurturing qualities, claiming that these womanly characteristics were in fact imperative to medicine’s progress. The women’s method of using their critics’ complaints to support their cause, however, obfuscated the role of the “lady-doctor” professionally as well as culturally. Nineteenth-century observers who perceived the women’s entrance into medicine as one of many related concurrent agitations for social progress such as suffragism, health reform, and abolitionism contributed to the misapprehensions surrounding the new woman doctor. Henry James addressed these concerns in his 1886 novel The Bostonians in which he places a minor character, Dr. Mary Prance, amidst a bewildering mix of abolitionists, mesmerists, and suffragists in the post-Reconstruction era. James’ lady-doctor, Dr. Prance, is distinct from other fictional and non-fictional representations of women doctors at the time because Dr. Prance defies her contemporaries’ attempts to categorize her as a “type” by bestriding traditional gender and professional roles, independently defining her own sphere. Dr. Sophia Jex-Blake, an outspoken and active nineteenth-century woman doctor, approved entirely of Dr. Prance’s characterization, suggesting that James’ representation resonated with Jex-Blake’s actual encounters with the complex gender and professional assumptions that confronted nineteenth-century women doctors.

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