Obstetrics and Child Health

Date: 1950
Owner: Asociacion Nacional de Medicas Mexicanas
Source Type: Images


While the Mexican ethno-obstetricians in the previous source are highly respected professionals in their own communities, female biomedical obstetricians played a decisive role in legitimizing Mexican women as viable members of the medical profession on the whole. Throughout most of the western world in the nineteenth century, male physicians actively excluded and denigrated midwives, the traditional experts in maternal and infant care, as inferior medical professionals. The masculinization of obstetrics, and medicine in general, was part of an effort by male doctors to bolster their own importance by making their field as exclusive as possible. In Mexico, however, women in the second half of the nineteenth century found a niche in the scientific community as professional obstetricians, a role that they used as a launching pad into other aspects of medical science.

In the mid 1800s, Mexico's School of Medicine offered a degree program in obstetrics and midwifery that was not only open to women, but encouraged them to become expert in this still new field of medicine. The School of Medicine's program (which had the same rigorous standards for both women and men) produced a cadre of females whose consistently excellent work as obstetricians and midwives challenged the male establishment to tolerate women in other branches of medicine as well. Women did not wait long to prove their capacities in these fields either. As early as 1887, Matilde Montoya--a graduate of the School of Medicine's obstetrics program--became the first female doctor in Mexico and was certified to practice medicine, surgery, and obstetrics.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the presence of Mexican women in the medical profession has increased dramatically. While from 1945-1949 only 5% of people to earn a medical degree from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) were women, females made up 56.4% of medical graduates in 2000. Nevertheless, although Mexican women are filling the ranks of general practitioners, the more specialized (and highly paid) branches of medicine are still disproportionately male.

Reference: Penyak, Lee M. "Obstetrics and the Emergence of Women in Mexico's Medical Establishment." In The Americas, vol. 60, no. 1 (Jul., 2003), pp. 59-85.

CITATION: Escuelas de Medicina de la Republica Mexicana. Collection of the Asociación Nacional de Médicas Mexicanas.