The Archives for Women in Medicine is pleased to announce our 2013-2014 Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine Fellow: Ciara Breathnach, Ph.D.
Dr. Breathnach is a Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Limerick, Ireland, and has published on Irish socio-economic and health histories in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Breathnach’s research focuses on how the poor experienced, engaged with and negotiated medical services in Ireland and in North America from 1860-1912. It builds on her wider studies on the family unit and the social history of medicine in Ireland and will help to advance her hypothesis that the rural Irish female was slow to medicalize, not only for socio-economic reasons, but also for reasons of personal agency. Using evidence from the records of the Boston dispensary, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Free Hospital for Women, and other collections, her research aims to show that Irish women continued to present as a problematic group long after the ethnic associations with cholera and typhoid outbreaks of earlier decades had dissipated.
Breathnach’s study examines migratory waves against trends in medical and social modernity processes. Combining pre-existing hypotheses from migration history and history of family, this study argues that because most Irish immigrants came from pre and proto-industrial households, they occupied a ‘transition phase’ of the social development process and were unfamiliar with modern medicine. Displaced by agricultural transition, and changes in marriage and inheritance patterns, Irish female migration came to outnumber male by the 1890s. Even after economic convergence had been reached in terms of real wages the rural Irish female continued to emigrate in significant numbers for economic, social and cultural reasons. These gendered migration trends have been well explored and established by economic and social historians but the history of their medical acculturation has remained largely ignored. By contrast the strain of Irish immigrants on the mental health system has received due consideration. This focused study of records held at the Archives for Women in Medicine at the Countway Library will be weighed against other socio-economic evidence to establish how problematic groups such as the Irish poor affected and shaped medical care in Boston.