CFP MLA Panel: Writing Women in Nineteenth-Century Science and Medicine
Nineteenth-century American women who worked in science and health fields disrupted the contemporary cultural norms that became more stratified with the increasing professionalization in fields of medicine and science. From Almira Phelps’s Botany textbooks and Elizabeth Blackwell’s memoirs to Rebecca Harding Davis’s and Sarah Orne Jewett’s novels about women doctors, women writers have grappled with both expressing and changing cultural narratives about women in science and medicine in nineteenth-century America. Nineteenth-century women writers, in their fiction, in their professional writings and in their autobiographical writing, register specific cultural challenges and obstacles faced by women in the sciences. While much critical work has focused on how these women writers and scientists grappled with marriage and on attempting to balance domestic expectations with professional ones, there is more critical work left to be done on how these writers register the specific gendered cultural issues women faced within the health sciences.
Our panel seeks essays that address the following questions: How did nineteenth-century women writers use fictional, professional, or autobiographical literature to position themselves within the framework of shifting scientific and social norms? How does the fiction or life writing of women in health reflect larger cultural narratives about women in science in that moment/space? How do those cultural narratives about gender and transgressing gender binaries influence the literature or life writing of women in the sciences more broadly? In what ways (using what techniques) do these writers work to situate marginalized figures within and/or against the dominant culture?