Sex and Suffering: Women's Health and a Women's Hospital

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Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999 - Medical - 420 pages
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Sex and motherhood bring women great joy, but they may also bring sickness and suffering. In this book Janet McCalman provides a vivid and absorbing social history of women's health, seen through the work of Australia's oldest women's hospital--the Royal Women's Hospital at Melbourne.

Drawing on the hospital's patient records from the 1850s to the 1930s, McCalman vividly recreates the lives of patients and the daily work of the hospital. She follows doctors, nurses, and patients through times of economic expansion and depression, the grim history of criminal abortion, and advances in medical science and surgery, including anesthesia.

Sex and Suffering is a groundbreaking work, telling the often shocking story of women's desperation to gain control over their lives and their health, and of medicine's struggle to comprehend and manage the mysteries of nature. This history of Australia's oldest specialist women's hospital is, therefore, also a history of women in the age of modern medicine.

"One of the most profound insights into our social history we have had for a long time... Here is why the so-called sexual revolution of the '60s had to happen... why taking control of our bodies and therefore our lives became a central tenet of feminism -- so that our daughters didn't suffer as our mothers had... The book is also a monument to faith in human improvement, our capacity to care and survival." -- Hilary McPhee, The Sunday Age (Melbourne)

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Founding a Hospital
The Diseases Peculiar to Women

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About the author (1999)

Janet McCalman is a senior lecturer in the Centre for the Study of Health at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of Struggletown and Journeyings.

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