Actively barred from pursuing medical careers elsewhere, women paediatricians were able to carve out careers in the specialty because it paid poorly and carried insufficient status, reveals a brief history of the profession, published ahead of print in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
It was also a young specialty, and therefore risky, and was less popular with their male colleagues.
Women were barred from training as junior doctors at the major hospitals, and the renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital did not appoint women trainees until 1946.
This forced women to enter paediatrics from more varied and circuitous routes than men, the consequence of which may have been to help make it a specialty "that could look beyond the confines of the ivory towers, and become more conscious of the world outside," suggests author Dr David Stevens.
Persistent discrimination continued unabated for much of the twentieth century. The first woman medical graduate in Manchester in 1904 was not allowed to apply for a hospital post in the city, and 38 years later, Sheila Sherlock, who qualified in Edinburgh, was barred from applying for a house job in her own medical school.
Married women doctors were also discriminated against, and few women paediatricians married and had their own families.
Nevertheless, women doctors pioneered paediatrics and the care of the newborn in much of England. And they founded hospitals, and became innovators in areas such as developmental paediatrics, child psychiatry, and research.
But despite their achievements, male paediatricians did not regard them as equals, and barred them from the British Paediatric Association--later to become the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health--until 1945.
[Pride, prejudice, and paediatrics (women paediatricians in England before 1950) Online First: Arch Dis Child 2006 10.1136/adc.2006.099531]