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Seminar: Dr Samiksha Sehrawat: ‘British Women’s Struggle for Medical Education and Female Medical Experts in the Colonies c. 1900-25’

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Location: R0.14 Ramphal building
Abstract:

Although the empire was seen through the nineteenth century as a masculine space, gender historians have argued that the twentieth century witnessed the ‘feminization’ of empire, beginning with the inter-war years. This ‘feminization’ was associated with a shift in emphasis of justifications of imperial rule on colonial development and was marked by the growing importance of women experts in colonial administration (Barbara Bush). These developments have been associated in imperial historiography with post-First World War discourses related especially to African colonies and mid-East colonial mandates. This paper argues that the prominence of women medical experts in India’s colonial administration and their insistence accept that improving Indian women’s health was an essential duty of the colonial government predated and anticipated these developments. The prominence of British women doctors in India was a direct consequence of the struggles of British women to seek a medical education in the late nineteenth century Britain and directly shaped discourses on indigenous women’s health, ideas on maternal mortality and third world development. This required the reconfiguration of the colonial gender order by white women medical experts in India who struggled for professional equality but also used ideas of racial difference. This paper will seek to recover the forgotten connections between the histories of the discourse on development, British first wave feminist movements and the role of colonial medical experts.

b+W photo of woman doctor in India, Angus Library collection

Dr Ellen Farrer performing an operation at Bhiwani, north India, c. 1920
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