Doctor or Doctress?

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A speech given by Mary Bruins Allison to her church in September of 1934 about her desire to go to Arabia as a medical missionary and the reasons she feels Arabia needs missionaries to help its people.

Why It Matters

Allison knew she wanted to be a medical missionary and was inspired by others like Dr. Ida Scudder, who went to India as a medical missionary in 1900. In her speech, Allison lists the reasons she feels doctors – especially women doctors – are needed abroad. She needed to persuade her congregation to support her mission.

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Analyze this evidence

  • Why does Allison believe it’s especially important for women doctors to work as medical missionaries in the Middle East?
  • Why does Allison believe people in Arabia (or the Middle East in general) need medical missionaries?
  • Allison calls some traditional Middle Eastern medical and cultural practices "ignorant" and "barbarous." Why does she use such harsh words that we would not use today to describe other cultures? Do you think it's because of her own racist and colonial attitudes, or is it to strengthen her case about why women doctors are need in that part of the world? Could it be both of these reasons?

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Wanting to go to Arabia as a medical missionary is a natural result of my home and church life. By impressions gained in family worship, at Church and Sunday School and from the missionary stories my mother told, the idea grew that I might be of service in missionary work. The career of Ida Scudder of India seemed most interesting to me and I hope I could study Medicine as a preparation. Arabia is an attractive field for a physician to begin a practice of Medicine. Comparatively, the United States has an oversupply of practitioners. Because there are so few educated doctors in Arabia, one could be of relatively much greater service there. Many people have no one but quacks and ignorant midwives to help them in illness. The ignorance of the people concerning ordinary cleanliness causes tragedies we rarely see here. There is every kind of medical work to be done – sanitation, surgery of all kinds, feeding and care of babies and young children, treatment of the many blinding eye diseases of the tropics, relief of real suffering and the prevention of the epidemics which occur so often in the warm climate. A woman physician finds a special appeal in women’s work. Islam tends to make women's lives hard and unhappy. Early marriage, seclusion in the harem, lack of education, illness accompanying and following childbirth, lack of medical care combined with polygamy and easy divorce for the husband cause tragedies which a woman physician could alleviate for men physicians usually may not attend women patients. Under the care of ignorant midwives, women often remain in labor for days and easily contract the most virulent infections – even tetanus is not rare, and their barbarous practices frequently leave the mother with a chronic illness.