Lunch at the Library: "Putting Science to Work: Women Healers and the Pursuit of Useful Medical Knowledge in Early Philadelphia" with Susan Brandt

12:00 p.m. ET

Thursday, April 13, 2023

12:00 p.m. ET

Register to attend in person or online.

Benjamin Franklin Hall

427 Chestnut St.

Philadelphia, PA 19106

cover women healers

NOTE: In-person registration for this event is now closed.

Those wishing to livestream the event may do so here.

Join us for a Lunch at the Library presentation from Susan Brandt on her new book, Women Healers: Gender, Authority, and Medicine in Early Philadelphia.

Histories of eighteenth-century science often privilege the contributions of elite white men who were members of all-male organizations like the American Philosophical Society or London’s Royal Society. However, if we view the production of scientific knowledge from a grassroots rather than a top-down perspective, the story includes numerous women of various classes and ethnicities. Although male natural philosophers argued that white women and women of color were innately illogical and unsuited for the rational pursuits of science and medicine, they eagerly sought information about medicinal herbs and medical therapies from diverse women who provided the preponderance of health care in early Philadelphia. Indigenous women were recognized experts at healing wounds, fractures, and infections. Sufferers valued Black women healers’ abilities to cure snakebite, poisoning, and smallpox. Literate
white women also had extensive medical practices and actively engaged with experimental science.

Although women’s healing work can be difficult for historians to recover, Elizabeth Coates Paschall’s detailed medical recipe book provides insights into women’s skilled practices and their participation in scientific networks. Paschall was a Philadelphia healer who recorded medical remedies from Indigenous and Black healers as well as physicians and natural philosophers. She checked out medical and scientific books from the Library Company of Philadelphia that informed the chemical, physiological, and anatomical bases for her medical treatments. In the 1743 founding statement for the American Philosophical Society, Paschall’s friend, Benjamin Franklin, articulated a vision for “promoting Useful Knowledge” for the “benefit of mankind.” Surrounded by male family members and friends who were early APS members, Paschall imbibed the society’s precepts. Through her self-directed studies, documented observations, and medical experiments, Paschall embraced the emerging authority of science. In this presentation based on my book, Women Healers: Gender, Authority, and Medicine in Early Philadelphia, I argue that women were not only essential health care providers, they were also on the frontlines of medical and scientific knowledge production.

The event will take place on Thursday, April 13, 2023 at 12:00 p.m. ET in Benjamin Franklin Hall and will also be livestreamed.

The event is free to attend but registration is required. Please register to attend in-person and online.

Lunch will be provided to those attending in person. (in-person registration is now closed)

Susan Brandt is a lecturer in the history department at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her PhD in History from Temple University. Brandt completed a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania McNeil Center for Early American Studies. She received the American Philosophical Society’s 2011-2012 Edward C. Carter II Library Resident Research Fellowship. Brandt’s dissertation on women healers was awarded the 2016 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. Women's History by the Organization of American Historians. She has published an article in Early American Studies and a chapter in Barbara Oberg, ed., Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World. Brandt’s book, Women Healers: Gender, Authority, and Medicine in Early Philadelphia (Penn Press, 2022) received Honorable Mention for the First Book Award, granted by the Library Company of Philadelphia. Prior to pursuing a career in history, Brandt worked as a nurse practitioner.