In the eleventh century, Salerno, Italy was the epicenter of medieval medicine in Europe. Salerno was famous for having one of the world's first universities with a medical school and, while women were generally denied an education during this time, its faculty and student body included both men and women. In fact, during this time, many women were trained as physicians and also taught at the medical schools. It's faculty and student body included both men and women.Trotula was a physician and an instructor at the School of Salerno.
Trotula, sometimes called Trota, was born in the eleventh century, perhaps around 1097 AD; sadly, very little is known of her life. The medical heroes of the day were still Hippocrates and Galen, even though both had died over eight hundred years before. Doctors followed and taught the teachings of these physicians, and virtually never researched on their own.
Trotula was one of the most famous physicians of the time and her interest was in managing the diseases and health problems of women. She is considered the world's first gynecologist. A skilled diagnostician, she wrote on a wide variety of topics, including conception, menstruation, pregnancy, cesarean sections and childbirth.. Her work on gynecology was so practical that it was used for hundreds of years. In the fables and stories of Northern Europe she became the fictional character called "Dame Trot."
Tortula believed that women should not suffer unrelenting pain during childbirth. During childbirth, she advocated the use of opiates produced by plants to dull the pain of labor. This contradicted Christian beliefs that a woman should suffer the pain of childbirth, because of the sin of Eve. Women were seen as weak, inferior and more susceptible to disease. For this reason, Trotula believed that women have special medical needs that can only be investigated and treated by a woman. She also felt that her patients should be physically comfortable, she recommended warm herbal baths, special diets, and plenty of rest to speed the healing process.
Sadly, the opportunities allowed to women at Salerno in the 11th century were not to last for Salerno was sacked by Henry VI in 1194, and, unfortunately, the medical school never fully recovered its prestige. Women were once again denied access to education, and those with practical healing skills and herbal knowledge were persecuted as witches. In fact, Tortola's own books were scattered and lost as hostility towards women as teachers and healers led to her very existence being denied and her works being assigned to male authors!