Jacoba Felicie Barred from Medicine: Paris, France, 1322

Jacoba Felicie Barred from Medicine: Paris, France, 1322

A number of scientists and doctors claimed that women should not be permitted to practice any manner of health care. In 1322, the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris laid charges against Jacoba Felicie for practicing medicine without being qualified.

Jacoba Felicie was a French midwife who was brought to trial for practicing medicine without license in a time when women were not allowed to. Six witnesses affirmed that Jacoba had cured them, even after numerous doctors had given up, and one patient declared that she was wiser in the art of surgery and medicine than any master physician or surgeon in Paris. However, these testimonials were used against her, for the charge was not that she was incompetent, but that as a woman she dared to cure at all.

Jacoba was well known in Paris among the well-to-do women, who regularly consulted her—often after seeing other doctors who had been unable to cure their maladies. Jacoba was a skilled midwife and healer who took the pulses of her patients and tested their urine to assist in diagnosis. Her patients acclaimed her skill in healing both internal and external injuries and wounds. She practiced medicine in the face of a great deal of enmity from the magistrates of the university, the Chancellor of Paris and probably from the humiliated licensed doctors whose patients she cured.

Opinions were divided on the role of women in medicine. Many, especially women, were supportive of the caring attitudes and skills of female physicians. The famed Salerno Medical School in Italy even trained gifted women to be doctors. In the 11th century the legendary Trotula was an obstetrician/gynecologist trained there who wrote several books that were still consulted hundreds of years later. She was best known for teaching male doctors about the female body and childbirth. The school maintained that women were eminently suited to caring for other women, particularly in matters of childbirth and other women’s conditions. Abella, a Salerno graduate, wrote authoritatively on black bile, and Mercuriade on fevers, so there was no doubt that some women were perfectly capable of becoming physicians.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars’ declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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