I N T R O D U C I N G
“Woman-Physician,” medical reformer, and
early promoter of evidence-based health interventions
I received a Medicinal Talent from my Father, which by the instruction and assistance of so excellent a Tutor, as he was to me, and my constant preparation and observation of Medicines, together with my daily Experience, by reason of his very great practice; as also being Mistress of a reasonable share of that Knowledge and discretion other Women attain; I made myself capable of disposing such noble and successful Medicines, and managing so weighty and great a Concern.
— Mary Trye, in “The Epistle Dedicatory” to
Medicatrix, or, The Woman-Physician
(London, 1675), sig. A2v–A3r
Mary Trye was a chemical physician with an established medical practice (first in Warwick, then in London), and is best known today as “one of the few early modern women medical practitioners to publish a book.” Dedicated to Lady Fisher, wife of Sir Clement Fisher, of Packington Hall, co. Warwick, Trye’s medical polemic — “vindicating Thomas O Dowde [her father], a Chymical Physician, and Royal Licentiate; and Chymistry; against the Calumnies and abusive Reflections of Henry Stubbe a Physician at Warwick” — was entitled Medicatrix, or, The Woman-Physician (London, 1675).
Apart from defending her father and attacking Stubbe, Trye mounts a defence of her medical views and remedies. Like most other medical chemists, she attacks the practice of phlebotomy. Like many of them, too, she declares that she esteems “real Learning, and the Foundation, Promoters, and Doctors thereof”, but that academic dress had too often become a shield for laziness and arrogance. Only in conjunction with the humility that comes from both practising among ordinary people and wrestling with nature in the laboratory could medical learning be perfected, she claims. Trye does quote from French sources, but has no citations from Latin or Greek, suggesting that she was no more academically educated than her father.
(Harold J. Cook, “Trye [née O’Dowde], Mary (fl. 1675), medical practitioner,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn., 2004, n. pag.)
She does, in fact, sprinkle her text with a few well-known Latin maxims (“Experientia docet”; “humanum est errare”; “Queen Elizabeths Motto, semper eadem”), but her references to, e.g., Plutarch and Cicero, are given in English, and there are no bibliographic citations to the works of either “Ancients” or “Moderns” in her book. This does not mean, however, that Mary Trye was not well-read in those subjects that mattered to her. Just like Stubbe, “I have read in History,” she notes, and it has taught her “the vast difference, between wit and wisdom, truth and errour, justice and interest” (Trye, 19). She was also clearly familiar with publications about chemistry and medicine by her contemporaries. Indeed, it was while catching up on the literature in her field that she ran across Stubbe’s animadversions on her father’s medical practice:
... upon my coming to London in October last [i.e., Oct. 1674], being inquisitive after the advance of Chymistry, so desirable by all sorts of People, some Papers came to my hands, subscribed by Henry Stubbe Physician at Warwick, wherein he opposeth the Royal Society, and all other ingenuity, but what he commends in his own Sect; and amongst others I find many false and abusive reflections cast by him on the Urn of my deceased Father, unbecoming a Gentleman....
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, “The Epistle Dedicatory,” A3v)
Elsewhere in her book she defends her father, herself, and chemical physicians in general against the usual accusations of “ignorance,” in part with a manifesto on educational reform, wherein she promotes the clinic and laboratory — not the university — as the site of true learning. Responding to Stubbe’s wilder claims that chemical physicians “damn” and “villify” learning, Trye argued that experimental, chemical “Ingenuity” and “Learning” are not at odds, and
That I have no reason, [nor] shall have any occasion, to reflect upon, or dis-praise the true design of Learning, and its requisite Method, and such Education ... Neither do I think there is any person, though never so illiterate and rude, that can bear a hatred [to], or despise so desireable and fit a qualification, as the proper intent, and just ends of Litterature.
And this will be no quarrel between the Medicus [Stubbe] and me, we shall not differ herein; nor I believe he need not contest with any body else so much about it as he seems to do, were it not a subtlety, and so specious to oblige his Readers opinion of his undertakings.
For as to my own concern, and my particular Judgment of it, I freely declare I admire it; and that it is an Education very conducible, and proper for every person that can with any conveniency attain to it: It is an excellent Ornament and Accomplishment, and a Capacity suitable to prepare a Man, with the more ease, for any Profession; as also the enquiries and obtainments any Art dictates, and the true end thereof proposes: And if I my self had never so many Children, if I could possibly do it, I would breed them Schollars; so that I shall sufficiently take off the prejudice of Mr. Stubbe, and forewarn him hereby, when I do say, That I esteem real Learning, and the Foundation, Promoters, and Doctors thereof: And if there be any difference between us about it, it must be, That although I highly Honour, and commend this kind of Education and Ornament; Yet I do say, Learning in it self, is only preparatory, not perfect, a proper progress and tendency, in order to the Art of Physick, not the Perfection and Consummation of that Art: A Man may read an Author, and yet not understand a Medicine; and I am confident an Able, knowing Author, never yet publisht a good effectual Medicine, as daily experience will best decide: No, this were to make a Divine Art cheap and contemptible; and to create and nourish more Sloth and Laziness then there is already: Authors I conceive direct and instruct their Students, only by pointing out the Way, not by walking to the Journeys end.
And as I am not satisfied, That every Author that writes of Medicines understands them; so I am as well assured, That a Man may sleep many years at the Fountain of Learning, and yet awake no Physician: Medicines are the Marrow and full Perfection of a Physician, and those are hard to be attain’d: They are many of them (that are excellent and worth a value) of some years preparation, and I doubt not but must be of many more for Invention: Learning will fit a Man for that Profession, but a diligent and indefatigable Elaboration [i.e., hands-on laboratory research] must perfect it. Medicines when obtained, one may in a reasonble time learn to apply; but how to obtain those Medicines, I verily think is a question beyond Dr. Stubbes’s Study.
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 72–74)
As we see in this passage, Trye repeatedly undermines Stubbe’s positioning of himself as “the Oracle of Physick” (Trye, 118):
For a Man to come and talk of Physick, to call himself a Teacher of it, and stand up to guide the whole World therein, in such an ingenious, knowing and intelligible Age as this is, without any other abilities to back him, then words, seems to me not only a Riddle, but almost a Miracle; and I thought if there had been any wonders with us at this day, they had been only these two, That in so many hundred years the Art of Learned Physick is no more improved; Physicians that desire to be Honoured with the name of Learning, are no more able in their Science, then their Masters of Old were near Two Thousand years before them.
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 92)
Each time she shifts the locus of “real Learning” for physicians from books to clinical practice and points to “the ignorant Mal-practice of Stubbe” (Trye, 126), Mary Trye creates a discursive space in which to assert her medical authority and exchange roles with her antagonist: “I see I must be his Tutor, as well as his Opposer” (Trye, 116).
Mary Trye’s book was sectioned into two parts, concluding with a two-page “Postscript” (in which Trye challenged Stubbe to participate in “an experimental Tryal” of their competing medicines & methods), followed by an eight-page “Advertisement” of the pharmaceuticals Trye prepared herself and retailed directly to consumers. Sized, like the handbooks for craftsmen, as an affordably-printed octavo (that is, a smaller-format hardback), Trye’s volume was intended for a middle-class audience (much like our modern paperbacks). We know that the wealthy charcoal merchant, concert promoter, and book collector, Thomas Britton (1644–1714) — whose trade made him “an apt, enthusiastic, and original pupil in the science of chemistry” — had a copy of Trye’s Medicatrix, or, The Woman-Physician in his library, and it was this copy that was auctioned by bookseller John Bullord in 1694, giving Trye’s “Chymical Vindication” new life, well beyond the trades where it originated, as a “collectible.”
Seventeenth-century book titles with poster-style layouts were important marketing tools for authors and publishers, and Trye’s medical volume relied on a densely-packed title-page to advertise, in the most provocative manner possible, the book’s contents:
Like many women practitioners during the early-modern period, Mary Trye specialized in treating the poor — “more out of Charity then my private Interest,” she notes. In so doing, she followed in the footsteps of her father, the physician Thomas O’Dowde, author of The Poor Man’s Physician (1659?; rpt. 1664, 1665) and an activist on behalf of the iatrochemists, who often tended to the health care needs of society’s poor and disenfranchised.
It was the Irishman and royalist O’Dowde — proud to acknowledge himself “one of the Grooms of the Chamber to his Sacred Majesty King Charles the Second” — who in early 1665 petitioned the king to incorporate a newly-formed society of chemical physicians, with a projected membership of 35 founders, all committed to a pursuit of chemical medicine within the theoretical framework of the “new science” then taking hold. O’Dowde and his colleagues conceived of the iatrochemical society as a rival medical organization to the London College of Physicians, and his proposal for incorporation threatened that Royal College’s statutory monopoly of internal medicine in and within 7 miles of London, guaranteed by several Charters and Acts of Parliament dating back to the reign of Henry VIII. Despite his royalist connections, O’Dowde was rebuffed in his pursuit of incorporation, and accused of quackery and political subversion in the public relations battle which followed with the licensed physicians, themselves desperate to protect their privileges. For various reasons, the slurs stuck, and would hound the chemists for years to come.
Thomas O’Dowde died during the Great Plague of 1665. He was one of the few physicians willing to remain in London and treat the city’s poor, who were so ravaged by the epidemic that it was styled “the Poors Plague” by contemporaries. Trye herself fell victim to the pestilence, but was cured because of her father’s and her own ingenuity. With her father stricken, and their house shut up,
yet with what conveniencies I could, I convey’d Medicines to many of those that wanted.
The next Friday after the death of my Father, I fell ill my self of this Raging disease, and by the goodness of God, and the Medicines of my Father, directed by my own order and instruction, I recovered; Three of our Family more, were likewise presently smitten with the same stroke, but all of them I preserved with my Fathers Medicines.
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 60)
Stubbe, in contrast, “commends Phlebotomy” (Trye, 100) as “absolutely necessary” (Trye, 102) for curing plague (also smallpox, scurvey, pleurisies, fevers, etc.), to which Trye spiritedly responds:
I have sufficiently discours’d of the last great Pest [pestilence] before [e.g., Part I, p. 60]; and that I was in it; and then I saw Phlebotomy of no use, I visited and cured Patients of it my self, and have much reason by good Experience to know the Method and Medicines for the Plague; And since Mr. Stubbe knows nothing of it, but what he hath read or heard, and run away from it; He can be no Champion in that Divine Battle.
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 102)
Like her male counterparts, especially among (al)chemical physicians, Mary Trye equated the ability to heal with divine gifts, and with this, a responsibility to minister to the poor. Of all physicians, she thought the chemical physician was closest to God: “For of the most High cometh Healing: And the Lord hath Created Medicines out of the Earth: And he that is wise may find them, but not without experiment.” (Trye, 76) Frequently associating the “glory” of God with chemical medicines — e.g., “Those that understand the Glory of a Good Medicine, know I guess aright ...” (Trye, 122); “... the glory and difference between the great secrets, and sublime acquirements of a Chymical Physician ...” (Trye, 71–2) — Trye believed that her father’s medicines and chemical “Method” were communicated to him by God, at one point repeating “my Fathers own words ... as ’tis wrote in his Book” concerning “that Method [for curing plague] which God hath been pleas’d to Communicate to me [O’Dowde and his daughter], to preserve Thousands from the Grave; and in that Confidence to administer freely and publickly to all that shall desire it, not excepting those persons or places, where other Physicians of the dull Road would be afraid to show themselves” (Trye, 48).
As Trye tells us in her book, it was the “Death-bed injunction” of her father, “obliging me to the obedience of the Rechabites” (a reference to Old Testament descriptions of the nomadic Israelite family descended from Rechab, thus implying a simple life-long medical pilgrimage) that his daughter carry on his practice, and “never suffer” his “effectual saving Medicines” “to fall to the ground, or to dye and be buryed in oblivion, nor never to stop my Ears from the cry of the Poor, languishing for want of such Medicines.” As such,
I have continued his Medicines to this day, (though not in this City) to the succour of many Hundreds, more out of Charity then my private Interest, to the bright Glory of these Chymical , and not to be paralel’d Medicines, and to the shame and odium of his [her father’s] Galenical opposers, as some time or other, by many laudable Instances, and miraculous examples shall be further offered.
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, “The Epistle Dedicatory,” A3r)
Combining her own inclination for iatrochemistry and the healing arts with a strong sense of Christian duty, Mary Trye did as her father asked, and continued his agitation on behalf of “the advance of Chymistry” (Trye, Epistle Dedicatory, A3v), using her published work to promote the causes of “the new science,” chemical physicians, and women. Her book is especially interesting for the double rhetoric of womanhood Trye so artfully employs: “the contradictions of being ‘woman’ are creatively mobilised, so that [her] status as [a woman] is simultaneously expressed and subverted.” “Despite its formal presentation as a defence of her father, the pamphlet asserts [Trye’s] own knowledge of medicine and advertises her abilities.” (Maureen Bell, George Parfitt, and Simon Shepherd, A Biographical Dictionary of English Women Writers 1580–1720, Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1990, 267 and 197)
Consumption, retailing, and medicine in 1670’s London
Trye began the advertisement for her medical commodities & health-care services with the following notice:
Since Letters and Words Cure no Diseases, no not the Ague by spell, And that the Sick may have some other benefit then Talk and Scribble, I will advertise: That as the great and only end of Physick, is to preserve the Body in Health, and to restore it to Health when lost: And being Mistress of that Knowledge and Medicines as hath inabled me to perform all this as far as the best of Medicines will reach. I thought my self oblig’d to give this notice to Poor as well as Rich, and for publick good in general: That all the several Medicines of my Father, together with many others now in my Custody, may at any time be had from me, by those, whose occasions require them.
I shall here name some of my Medicines, and only mention some of the most considerable Diseases, and leave the Reader to believe those of the lesser Ranck and meaner Degree, are more easily Remedied, and may likewise have Medicines accordingly.
M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, “Advertisement,” K1r)
Her list of the “most considerable Diseases” afflicting urban and suburban Londoners ran the gamut from smallpox to gout, consumption, “the Stone” (as bred and lodged in the kidney, urinary bladder, and gallbladder), scurvy, “agues” (quotidian, tertian, and quartan), dropsy, venereal disease (aka “the French-evil” and “the French Pox”), “the Falling-Sickness” (epilepsy), and “the Griping of the Guts” (spasmodic constricting pains in the bowels, aka colic).
This list of “great Diseases,” in which Trye specialized, serves as a bookend to claims made throughout her Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, from the title-page on, that the Scholastic Stubbe simply cannot compete with her clinically:
I am told the Medicus cannot Cure a poor Quartan Ague, under the Revolution and Course of a years Medicaments, and sometimes not that neither; but forc’d to let both the Patient and his quivering Disease take their fortune; I know it is a truth that General Practicers of Physick cannot Cure an Ague; But for Learned Mr. Stubbe, the great Physician at Warwick, the Mouth and Oracle of Physick, not to have such Generous Medicaments as will reach a Quartan Ague, the most contemptible Disease that happens to a Physicians care, I cannot believe: ’Tis enough for the Men of Old to be ignorant in the Cure of this petty creeping Disease, I hope litteral Mr. Stubbe scorns to be so Idle, and to have spent his time, and employ’d his Learning to so little purpose, as not to be able dexterously to Cure an Ague. If this should happen to be his misfortune, if he pleases to come to me, I will instruct him how he shall be able to do all this in 4 or 5 days.... If the Ague be so hard to Cure, what will our Champion do to clear himself of the great Diseases of the Apoplexy, the Gout, the Venereal Lues, or Il mal Francese, that destroying Disease of this Age; as also, the Stone, the Falling-sickness, Dropsies, Consumptions, and such like....
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 121–2)
These same assertions reappear in the 8-page advertisement at the close of Medicatrix, only this time with new information about the proprietary medicines Trye uses for each of the “great Diseases” she treats. As before, the intent is to reconstitute and promote the O’Dowde brand. For example,
Finally, there is one more lucrative medical specialty to cover: “Diseases attending Women.” This she quickly glosses over at the bottom of the last page of her advertisement:
As Histerical Fits, or Fits of the Mother, Green-sickness, Wastings, Barrenness, Obstructions, Fluxes of several Kinds, &c. The Diseases incident to this Sex are many, and not proper here largely to be discoursed on; therefore I purposely omit them, and shall only say, they may have effectual Remedies from me in their respective Infirmities likewise, as well as in the rest that I have before mentioned.
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, “Advertisement,” K4v)
This concluding bow to decorum — from the woman who has spent much of her 143-page polemic hurling insults at Stubbe (“this Quacking Parrot; and Chego Doctor”) and “his dis-ingenious and inhumane Brethren that care not what becomes of [the] Sick, or any thing else, so they can support their own Grandieur, Profit and Interest” — is testament to the historic silence surrounding gynecological matters in literary, as well as oral, cultures.
Trye was similarly coy when marketing her ability to cure venereal disease, noting it “is not proper here to be discours’d more of then what follows,” with the added disclaimer that her proprietary cures (“An Aperitive Medicine, the Elixir of Life, my Solary Pills, An Imperial Pill, A Diaphoretick Elixir, A Cordial Potion”) are not intended as “incouragement in filthy evil actions.” (Trye, Advertisement, K3v–K4r)
Nonetheless, she also launched a spirited critique of the medical establishment’s lack of will to “undertake the Cure” of a “foul Disease” which Trye believed would take more English lives than the Great Plague of 1665:
But if notwithstanding Mr. Stubbes’s loud ringing, Diseases are never the more Cured, what shall we do with the over-spreading Disease, now so Raging, called the Venereal Lues, or French Evil, which sweeps away so many, and is like to be very destructive to Posterity: This is a Plague, which without an extraordinary prevention, will certainly be more mortal then that of 1665: of this Disease The Patient is said to be Cured, his Relapse is the Scurvey, his Death the Consumption: But of this Disease the Patient is not Cured; His Relapse is the first Disease, and his Death the same: Of this Disease the Father is Sick, the Son dyes, the Grand-child is infected; and where is the Physician at Warwick? If he [i.e., Stubbe] would consult the Kingdoms Interest, so far, as to search out true effectual Remedies for this destroying Calamity; It would be a greater Service then ever he hath either attempted, or done it yet: His Universal Medicament the Lancett will not do this; but it may be he is of the mind of some others of his Profession, who think its enough, to wrap themselves with the Cloak of Learning, and that is a protection sufficient; and in this Disease will not undertake the Cure, pretending, its an ill Sickness, and the Patients deserve not to be Cured, because they know not how to do it: so the Sick must perish; This indeed shews rare Charity, and notable Ability, But these Men (I perceive) are such, as in few years more, must either learn to cure this devouring Malady, or leave off practising Physick.
Great are the Tortures poor Patients are forc’d to undergo in the common course of this Cure, as well as tedious, troublesome, and loathsome Administrations: And when all this is past, the benefit generally received thereby, is little more then a Palliation and Stop to the virulent fruits of it, not a total an clear eradication of the Cause: And when few months or years after, the Disease returns, and the Patient is new afflicted, he is then soothed up ’tis the Scurvey, the Kings-Evil, the Gout, &c. or what Mr. Stubbes pleaseth; and so the Patient must be contented with a Physical Life, but a Languishing Body, without he happens to meet with better assistance.
Yet this is not the greatest mischief neither, for by this means, not only the Patient, but Families and Posterity are in danger of Ruine: to ascertain which truth, there wants not evident examples.
It is very much to be admired, that amongst so much Learning, there are so few Good Medicines used in this Disease, and so weak and mean a course generally taken for the recovery of this filthy Evil, since it is a Sickness both very easily and pleasantly, and as truly healed; and the Body made free from the impurities an dangerous consequences thereof, with as little trouble, and less prejuice, then many ordinary Diseases; and without the horrid Drenches, Fluxing, Salivation or Nodding as they call it, Tubbing and Bathing, Mercurial Unctions, Lotions, Cerecloths, Emplaisters, &c. And an endless, frivolous, impertinent Dietary observation.
I could in this Disease, as in many others, quote eminent Cases, an bring in question the skill and great Knowledge of as Learned and famous Physicians as he at Warwick; but I omit, being ambitious at this time only to oppose Mr. Stubbe, and to inform him, That when these Frenchified Patients are beyon his Art, they are then in the power and deliverance of Good Medicines; and of this he may be more assured by Experiment.
(M. Trye, Medicatrix, or the Woman-Physician, 1675, 119–21)
NOTE: Additional excerpts from Mary Trye’s Medicatrix, or, The Woman-Physician (London, 1675) are to be found in the webessay on Trye’s antagonist, Henry Stubbe (1632–1676) — polymath physician with an American connection, radical Independent & republican polemicist, author of one of the earliest appreciations in English of Islam, and the first writer on climate change to be published (1667) in a scientific journal.