Agnodice: The First Female Doctor Who Disguised As A Man And Became A Medical Legend

By | May 17, 2020

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Agnodice disguised her gender to study medicine. (

Today, roughly equal numbers of men and women study medicine, but for centuries, women were prohibited from the practice. That didn't stop Agnodice, a Greek woman who supposedly lived in the 4th century B.C. and allegedly the first known female doctor in history. Although many historians now think Agnodice was a fictional character, she is often credited with paving the way for female doctors.

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Only men studied medicine as shown in this marble relief from the Temple of Amphiaraos at Oropos, Attica. (Photo By DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini via Getty Images)

Male-Dominated Medicine

Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Babylon, and Greece all had medical training programs, but only men were permitted to study medicine, in part because women weren't allowed to study anything. They were thought to be too weak-minded to understand complex ideas, too squeamish to deal with blood and gore, and too emotional and irrational to handle illness, injury, and death. Besides, it was not proper for a woman to look at and touch a man's body unless he was her husband.