Kelly O`Donnell

Ph.D., Department of History, Yale University

2020 to 2021
NEH Postdoctoral Fellow

Hippocratic Vows: How the Doctor's Wife Transformed American Medicine

This project rewrites the history of health care in America, bringing to light the women behind the “great men” of medicine: their wives. More than a mere helpmate, I argue, “Mrs. MD” was instrumental in the history of this profession. By focusing on the wives of physicians between the founding of the American Medical Association in the mid-nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth century, I provide a new perspective on the social and cultural transformations of American medicine. Relying on organizational records of women’s medical auxiliaries, personal and family papers of physicians, and a variety of sources from popular culture framing doctors as desirable spouses, I show how doctors’ wives made American medicine modern. Contributing unpaid and largely unacknowledged labor ranging from helping out around the office to waging political wars, these women had a significant impact on the professionalization, cultural reception, and reform of the medical establishment.