Women Physicians In China

Paragraph 1

In the late nineteenth century, the need for women physicians in missionary hospitals in Canton, China, led to expanded opportunities for both Western women and Chinese women. The presence of Western women as medical missionaries in China was made possible by certain changes within the Western missionary movement. Beginning in the 1870s, increasingly large numbers of women were forming women’s foreign mission societies dedicated to the support of women’s foreign mission work. Beyond giving the women who organized the societies a formal activity outside their home circles, these organizations enabled an increasing number of single women missionaries (as opposed to women who were part of the more typical husband-wife missionary teams) to work abroad. Before the formation of these women’s organizations, mission funds had been collected by ministers and other church leaders, most of whom emphasized local parish work. What money was spent on foreign missions was under the control of exclusively male foreign mission boards whose members were uniformly uneasy about the new idea of sending single women out into the mission field. But as women’s groups began raising impressive amounts of money donated specifically in support of single women missionaries, the home churches bowed both to women’s changing roles at home and to increasing numbers of single professional missionary women abroad.

Paragraph 2

Although the idea of employing a woman physician was a daring one for most Western missionaries in China, the advantages of a well-trained Western woman physician could not be ignored by Canton mission hospital administrators. A woman physician could attend women patients without offending any of the accepted conventions of female modesty. Eventually, some of these women were able to found and head separate women’ medical institutions, thereby gaining access to professional responsibilities far beyond those available to them at home.

Paragraph 3

These developments also led to the attainment of valuable training and status by a significant number of Chinese women. The presence of women physicians in Canton mission hospitals led many Chinese women to avail themselves of Western medicine who might otherwise have failed to do so because of their culture’s emphasis on physical modesty. In order to provide enough women physicians for these patients, growing numbers of young Chinese women were given instruction in medicine. This enabled them to earn an independent income, something that was then largely unavailable to women within traditional Chinese society. Many women graduates were eventually able to go out on their own into private practice, freeing themselves of dependence upon the mission community.

Paragraph 4

The most important result of these opportunities was the establishment of clear evidence of women’s abilities and strengths, clear reasons for affording women expanded opportunities, and clear role models for how these abilities and responsibilities might be exercised.

Topic and Scope:

Women doctors in China; specifically, the need for women missionary doctors in the late 1800s.

Purpose and Main Idea:

The author’s purpose is to explain how it was that the influx of Western women doctors created opportunities for both Western and Chinese women; and the Main Idea is pretty much the passage’s first sentence. The structure and gist of the passage are made very clear from the very beginning—good news for test-takers.

Paragraph Structure:

Paragraph 1 focuses on the missionary movement, and the changes that led to sending women doctors to China. The most notable change was the growth, from 1870 on, of women’s mission societies, which were much more eager to send single women overseas than were the traditional male-dominated mission boards; but the latter fell into line over time.

Paragraph 2 describes the conditions that Western women doctors found in China—conditions that you might have mentally summed up as “initial unease, then widespread acceptance.”

Then paragraph 3 explains the impact of these developments on Chinese women, who first made use of the women doctors’ services and then began to be medically trained themselves, thus becoming able to crack the medical “glass ceiling” of its day and earn an independent living.

Paragraph 4 sums up, in rather general terms, the progress for women generally that was signalled by all of the above-described developments.

The Big Picture:

  • Start reading and thinking at line one! A passage like this one dramatically illustrates how much of the “game plan” an author can give away as early as the very first sentence. Don’t wait for 12 lines to go by before you start thinking and paraphrasing. Get busy early!
  • In Reading Comp., promises made are promises kept. The first sentence promises a treatment of how opportunities arose for Western as well as Chinese women; we should expect each of those to be treated in turn. (And they are discussed in separate paragraphs.) When an author makes promises, see to it that s/he keeps them.
  • The concept of “gist” comes into play in paragraph 1. You don’t have to understand all of the details, chapter and verse, of how women doctors came to China. Get a rough sense of it— “it was women who sent the women overseas”—and wait for the questions to demand that you read and understand more deeply than that.

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