Women Physicians of Ancient Egypt


In ancient Egypt, all professions were open to educated women and men. The first-ever named female in the history of science, not just medicine, is the Egyptian physician Merit-Ptah, who lived around 2700 BCE. Very little is known about Merit-Ptah and her achievements in the field of medicine. However, she was immortalized by her son who was a High Priest, and who inscribed her title of “chief physician” on her tomb at the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, around 30 kilometers south of Cairo.

Update: In December 2019, media stories highlighed a research paper published in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. The study, conducted by Jakub Kwiecinsk, a medical historian at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine suggests that Merit-Ptah did not really exsit, and that it was a just a case of mistaken identity.  Further reading.

Another prominent ancient Egyptian female physician of her time was Peseshet, who lived during the Fourth Dynasty (2613–2494 BCE). According to inscriptions on a stela found in an Old Kingdom tomb, she was known as a “lady overseer of the female physicians”. This title not only shows that there was a body of female physicians in Ancient Egypt, but also that it was directed and supervised by a woman as well.

Last but not least, a later notable Egyptian female who made her mark in the field of gynecology in the second century was Cleopatra, not to be confused with the former Ptolemaic Queen. Cleopatra wrote extensively about pregnancy, childbirth, and women’s health; her works continued to be the focus of study for more than a thousand years.

**The original article is published in the SCIplanet, Spring 2014 issue.



*Banner image credit: University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

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