Justine Siegemund was a 17th-century Sielsian physician and midwife who made significant contributions to the field of obstetrics and gynecology. Her innovative work and determination to advance women's healthcare in a male-dominated field have made her an inspiring figure in the history of medicine.
Siegemund was born on 26 December 1636 in Rhonstock, now Roztoka, Poland. She was the daughter of Elias Dittrich, a Lutheran pastor. Her father taught her how to read and write.
At the age of 17, Siegemund married Christian Siegemund. Her marriage was childless.
When Justine was 20, she suffered from a prolapsed uterus, however, the midwives misdiagnosed her to be pregnant. After suffering at the hands of the ignorant midwives, Siegemund took it upon herself to become a midwife.
She started reading books on obstetrics and started to gain her own knowledge about women's healthcare. After three years of training, she had learned enough through attending deliveries under the guidance of skilled midwives.
Siegemung started providing free services to poor women in her locality. Her husband supported her financially. Eventually, her reputation as an outstanding midwife traveled far. She started treating rich women as well. As her client base expanded, she was called upon by the Duchess of Legnica, who was suffering from a cervical tumor.
With her extensive knowledge of obstetrics and female anatomy, she expertly removed the tumor and became the midwife of the Duchess and her court.
At the time, childless women were prohibited from becoming midwives, but Siegemund tackled the obstacle and became one of the most renowned midwives of the time.
Despite her success, she was still looked down upon by the patriarchal society. Martin Kerger, who was a former supervisor of Siegemund, accused her of unsafe birthing practices in 1680. However, Siegemund had the support of Kerger's colleagues at the Frankfurt on Oder medical faculty. Moreover, Kerger himself lacked the practical and experience-based professional knowledge of women's reproductive anatomy and childbirth and it was evident in his own statements. Her previous clients also testified in the support of Siegemund. Therefore, Kreger’s accusations did not hold much weight and the case against her was dropped.
After her win, she became the City Midwife of Legnica, a most impressive feat. Over the years, she treated royal and noble women and eventually her astounding work reached the ears of the Queen of England, Mary II.
In 1690, Siegemund published an obstetrics manual “the Court Midwife (Die Kgl. Preußische und Chur-Brandenburgische Hof-Wehemutter)”. This comprehensive book, written in German, was one of the first medical texts on obstetrics and gynecology and included detailed descriptions of female anatomy, pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care. It also included practical advice for midwives and was widely read throughout Europe.
Despite her groundbreaking work, Siegemund faced significant opposition from male physicians who refused to accept a woman as a legitimate medical expert. She was forced to defend herself against accusations of quackery and witchcraft.
Nevertheless, Siegemund persisted in her work and continued to push the boundaries of medical knowledge. Her legacy has had a lasting impact on the field of medicine. She was a pioneer in women's healthcare and helped to establish obstetrics and gynecology as a legitimate medical specialty. Her contributions to the field continue to be recognized and celebrated today.
Justine Siegemund was a remarkable woman who overcame significant barriers to become a respected medical expert and pioneer in women's healthcare. Her innovative work and determination to advance the field of medicine have made her an important figure in the history of medicine, and her legacy continues to inspire generations of physicians and healthcare professionals.