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Civilized Pains: Race, Gender, & Obstetric Anesthesia in the Nineteenth-Century United States

By Miriam Rich

Abstract

In this thesis, Rich argues that the history of obstetric anesthesia in 19th century America is heavily dependent on constructions of race, gender, and class at the time. She primarily uses the writings of physicians and patients, including those on both sides of the anesthesia debate. The debates over obstetric anesthesia in its early days reflect concerns over its social and cultural implications. While some argued that anesthesia was advantageous to supposedly fragile white women, others opposed it based on arguments of religion, interference with a natural process, and a racialized concept of pain – that parturient pain distinguished civilized women from the supposedly lower races and classes. Obstetric anesthesia both challenged and reinforced social constructions of civilized white femininity, increased and decreased the agency of the mother, and accented the social divisions of race, class, and “civilization.

Year: 2011
OAI identifier: oai:triceratops.brynmawr.edu:10066/7640
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