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Diversity Week 2021 Book Club: Medical Bondage: Heberden Society Lecture

Heberden Society Lecture

promoting interest in the history of medicine
2020-2021 Lecture Series
Generously supported by David J. Wolf, MD
All lectures are free and open to the public!

APRIL 28, 2021 | 5 PM EST

Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the
Origins of American Gynecology

Deirdre Cooper Owens, PhD
Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program and the
Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Registration for this Zoom lecture is required at

Join Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens for a presentation on her award-winning book, which examines the accomplishments of pioneering 19th-century gynecologists who conducted their experiments primarily on poor and powerless women. Medical Bondage broke new ground by exploring how and why physicians denied these women their full humanity, yet valued them as “medical superbodies” highly suited for medical experimentation. Even as they were advancing medicine, these doctors were legitimizing, for decades to come, groundless theories related to whiteness and blackness, men and women, and the inferiority of other races or nationalities. Medical Bondage moves between southern plantations and northern urban centers to reveal how 19th-century American ideas about race, health, and status influenced doctor-patient relationships in sites of healing like slave cabins, medical colleges, and hospitals. It also retells the story of black enslaved women and Irish immigrant women from the perspective of these exploited groups, and thus restores for us a picture of their lives.


Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Linda and Charles Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and the Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is also an Organization of American Historians’ Distinguished Lecturer, and the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia.