Medical Bondage

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Medical Bondage: A Conversation with Author Dr. Deirdre Owens

23 March 2021
Online | Free

About the Book

The accomplishments of pioneering doctors such as John Peter Mettauer, James Marion Sims, and Nathan Bozeman are well documented. It is also no secret that these nineteenth-century gynecologists performed experimental caesarean sections, ovariotomies, and obstetric fistula repairs primarily on poor and powerless women. Medical Bondage breaks new ground by exploring how and why physicians denied these women their full humanity yet valued them as “medical superbodies” highly suited for medical experimentation.

In Medical Bondage, Cooper Owens examines a wide range of scientific literature and less formal communications in which gynaecologists created and disseminated medical fictions about their patients, such as their belief that black enslaved women could withstand pain better than white “ladies.” Even as they were advancing medicine, these doctors were legitimising, for decades to come, groundless theories related to whiteness and blackness, men and women, and the inferiority of other races or nationalities.

Medical Bondage moves between southern plantations and northern urban centers to reveal how nineteenth-century American ideas about race, health, and status influenced doctor-patient relationships in sites of healing like slave cabins, medical colleges, and hospitals. It also retells the story of black enslaved women and of Irish immigrant women from the perspective of these exploited groups and thus restores for us a picture of their lives.

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About the Author

Deirdre Cooper Owens

Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and the Director of the Humanities in Medicine Programme at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

About Dock Power Hour

Dock Power Hour is The Dock Bookshop programme dedicated to discussing and analyzing social, political, economic and international topics.

Hosts: Donya Craddock and Donna Craddock, co-owners of The Dock Bookshop

Header Illustration by: Diana Ejaita

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