"We are the daughters of the women you didn’t burn."
What witches have to do with women’s health
Estimates range, but the latest scholarship puts the number of people burned during a 400 year period of witch hunts at roughly 100,000 people, 80-85% of them women. By the mid-16th century there were villages where all but one woman had been killed for practicing witchcraft…
What were these women burned (also strangled, hanged and beheaded) to death for? Well, first, charges often amounted to condemnations of being female and sexual, two qualities that even today, religious fundamentalists of all stripes tend to deplore. Elaborate fantasies about women engaging in intercourse with the devil were a regular feature of witch trials. Second, women were persecuted for associating with other women, accused of forming covens or holding parties with Satan. Women who came together to celebrate holidays or to share information, trade herbs, gossip or otherwise, you know, hang out together were considered dangerous. Third, women were punished for being poor and helping the poor. As Ehrenreich and English point out, the church was inclined to instruct the desperately impoverished, who made up the vast bulk of the population, to bypass the ministrations of women healers and look to the afterlife for solace while, at the same time, supporting medicine and medical help for the nobility. “Male, upper-class healing under the auspices of the medieval church was acceptable, female healing as part of a peasant subculture was not,” Ehrenreich and English explained. Fourth, they appear to have been particularly maligned for providing obstetric support and for using empirical reasoning. Lastly, women were charged as witches because they were successful. Take the case of Jacoba Felicie, who was tried in 1322. Her accusation read, “she would cure her patient of internal illness…visit the sick assiduously and continue to examine…in the manner of physicians.” No less than six witnesses described how she’d successfully treated the when “doctors” had failed. This was evidence against her, by the way.
Read more about witches and women’s health and medicine.