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Yale professor highlights the history of feminism and the medical field

Dr. Naomi Rogers spoke at WSU's main campus on Feb. 27 about Feminist Activism and Health Politics since 1945. (Robert Lewis / The Signpost)
Dr. Naomi Rogers spoke at WSU's main campus on Feb. 27 about Feminist Activism and Health Politics since 1945. (Robert Lewis / The Signpost)

In years past, women have had a turbulent relationship with the medical field.

As part of the Beyond Suffrage lecture series, Yale professor Naomi Rogers, Ph.D. came to Weber State on Feb. 27 to talk about feminism and its role in American health politics.

The Beyond Suffrage lecture series, hosted by University Archives, is held to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment and to highlight the stories of unheard women in the community.

Sarah Langsdon, head of Special Collections, mentions the importance of hosting this lecture and the information Rogers provides.

“To me, it’s realizing that it’s taken until the most recent generations to have access to a lot of things that most of us just assumed were natural and should’ve been given at the first,” Langsdon says.

Rogers began her lecture with the topic of women’s medical colleges and hospitals before the 1920s.

She then explained the environment of medical training from the 1950s to the 1960s, describing how it widely consisted of white men. Not only that, but men were excluded based on their religious background and class standing.

In the baby boomer era, a large number of women began attending college. However, women who decided to receive a higher education were met with things such as curfews, dress codes and professors who would persuade them to do sexual acts to obtain a better grade.

Additionally, women were often seen as note-takers, coffee makers and sexual partners.

Medical schools would keep the acceptance rate of women from 4% to 6% because they argued there were not many suitable applicants. However, after a group of female lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against all medical schools in 1970 and claimed they were going against federal guidelines with their gender quotas, there was a large number of women that suddenly got accepted into these schools.

Rogers not only spoke on how the medical field has impacted women’s history, but she also touched on the effects on people of color. She highlights the story of Edith Irby Jones, who was the first African American to be accepted at the University of Arkansas Medical School and the discrimination she faced.

Rogers also spoke about the rise of birth control, and the tactics women would use to obtain the pill, such as going to a doctor’s office with a ring on their finger and lying about their marital status.

While the rise of birth control was seen as a solution to social issues, it also brought up a conversation of genocide.

Birth control hospitals would often be set up in poor neighborhoods of color, which led people to believe the reasoning for this was to lessen the birthrate in said communities.

Additionally, women of color would often face coercion into sterilization.

Rogers also mentioned the different changes feminism has brought in regards to medical care for women.

Radical feminists felt there needed to be a change in the health systems, which led them to open women’s health clinics with the intent to empower women patients through having the clinics run by only women. On top of that, the idea of hospitals being demeaning toward women led to having home births.

Rogers wrapped up the lecture by mentioning the current state of the medical field and health care education, such as how sex education is taught in schools.

She also mentioned that while medical student activism is still around, it is more focused on racial discrimination and profiling.

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