"Fascinating scalpel-wielders and fair dissectors": women’s experience of Irish medical education, c.1880s-1920s

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... Though all the world’s a stage and we are acting,
Yet still I think your part is not dissecting,
To me the art of making apple tarts
Would suit you better than those “horrid parts”.
In times to come when queens at home you are,
There’ll be more rapture in the light guitar.
Your knowledge—of the frog should only be
How they are cooked in France—or making tea!
And as for learning Chemistry and that
’Twould be a nicer thing to trim a hat.
I know your aims in medicine are true
But tell me is there any need of you?1

This poem, entitled Ode to the lady medicals and published in 1902 in St. Stephen's, the student magazine of the Catholic University in Dublin, questions the relatively recent undertaking of medical education by women. Although admittedly tongue-in-cheek, it highlights some of the prevalent attitudes towards the admission of women to medicine, a subject that had faced fierce criticism from some.2 Certainly, this poem strongly suggests that a woman's place should be in the home, learning how to cook frogs rather than how to dissect them, and that women should concern themselves with more feminine activities such as hat-trimming. Moreover, it ends on the question of whether there was actually any need for women doctors, highlighting fears about the overcrowded medical marketplace.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-516
Number of pages22
JournalMedical History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


  • education, medical
  • female
  • gender identity
  • history, 19th century
  • history, 20th century
  • humans
  • Ireland
  • male
  • woman

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