LSR MEXICO REPORT

The inclusion of women in medicine is due to Matilde Montoya

January 26 commemorated 81 years of the death of Matilde Montoya, the first female doctor in Mexico

  • Yanin Montes
  • 29/10/2020
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The inclusion of women in medicine is due to Matilde Montoya
Matilde was born in the final stretch of the 19th century on March 14. (Special)

On January 26, 81 years of the death of Matilde Montoya, the first Mexican doctor, were commemorated. Her story is one of those that is worth making visible.

Matilde was born in the final stretch of the 19th century on March 14, 1859, and was a gifted girl. The daughter of a conservative father, military man José María Montoya, who did not let his wife go out on the streets. Her mother, Soledad Lafragua, did something more provocative without imagining it; she dedicated herself to promoting her daughter's education. Dad didn't see the point, but he didn't object.


Matilde studied elementary education or the first three years of primary school, and higher education, which corresponded to the next three. At the age of 11, they tried to enroll her in the Upper Primary School, which today we know as secondary. Still, she was not old enough to attend it, she was younger, so her family, with everything and her father's resistance, paid for her private studies.

At the age of 13, Matilde was ready to teach elementary school, but once again, she could not take the exam because of her age, and without the assessment, she will not be allowed to be a teacher. Today we have Dafne Almazán, who, at the same age, graduated as a psychologist and, at 17, was admitted to Harvard for her master's degree.

DAFNE ALMAZÁN

But going back to the young Matilde, things were not easy at all. Her father died, which, to be honest, was not so bad because most likely, he would have found her a husband, and we would have of miss out on her great life story. However, her economic situation was precarious and made her face several obstacles to continue her education.

Montoya enrolled in the career of Obstetrics and Midwife, which depended on the National School of Medicine, but had to leave due to financial hardships. She began attending the School of Midwives and Obstetricians of the Maternity House, a place known as "attention to hidden births," that is to say, that it attended to single mothers.

She also complimented her midwifery studies at the Establishment of Medical Sciences, which involved two years of theoretical subjects, an examination in front of five synods, and practice for one year at the Maternity Home. At age 16, Montoya received the title of Midwife and settled down to work in Puebla with resounding success.

Matilde started as a surgical assistant. With the little money she had, she took the time to take classes in private schools for women and complete her high school studies.

The young Midwife quickly gained a large clientele of women who liked her friendly treatment and her knowledge of medicine, more advanced than other midwives, and many doctors.

THE SMEARS AGAINST HER

Matilde's success was not well seen by some doctors who orchestrated a smear campaign against her in various local newspapers, publishing violent articles. They called on Puebla society not to request this unreliable woman's services, accusing her of being "Freemason and Protestant."

Faced with pressure, Matilde had to leave her job and go to Veracruz for a few months. Upon returning to Puebla, she requested enrollment in the School of Medicine and was accepted in a public ceremony attended by the state governor, all the Power's lawyers. Judicial, numerous teachers, and many ladies of society who supported her. However, the most radical sectors redoubled their attacks, publishing an article headed with the phrase: "Impudent and dangerous woman intends to become a doctor."

Overwhelmed by criticism, Matilde Montoya, already 24 years old, decided to move with her mother to Mexico City. For the second time, she applied for enrollment in the National School of Medicine, being accepted on this occasion.

Women's publications and a vast sector of the press supported her, but some believed that "the woman who wants to study medicine must be perverse, to see the corpses of naked men." There was no lack of criticism, ridicule, and disqualification in the National School of Medicine due to her presence as the only student. However, she also received the support of several supportive colleagues, nicknamed "Los Montoyos."

Still, several opposition teachers and students requested that his file be reviewed before the first year's final exams, objecting to the high school subjects' validity that he had studied in private schools, and Montoya was withdrawn.

But Matilde did not sit idly by; she requested the authorities that she should be allowed to take them at the San Ildefonso School in the afternoons because her subjects were not validated. Her application was rejected since the text indicated "students," not "female students" in the school's internal regulations.

Given this, Matilde wrote a letter to the President of the Republic, Porfirio Díaz, who instructed the Secretary of Public Illustration and Justice, Lic. Joaquín Baranda, to "suggest" to the Director of San Ildefonso to provide facilities for Ms. Montoya will take the subjects in conflict, before which he had no choice but to agree.

After completing her studies with good marks and preparing her thesis, Matilde Montoya requested her professional examination. Once again, she ran into the obstacle that the National School of Medicine statutes spoke of "students" and not "female students," for which her exam was denied.

OPEN THE DOORS TO FEMALE DOCTORS

Matilde already knew the way. Once again, she wrote to President Díaz, who decided to send a request to the Chamber of Deputies so that the National School of Medicine statutes be updated, and female doctors could graduate. President Díaz issued a decree for Montoya's professional examination to be held on August 24, 1887.

When the exam was over, applause from several women, primary school teachers, and journalists was heard who had gathered in the courtyard, celebrating the verdict of "passed."

The following day, Matilde took her practical exam at the San Andrés Hospital in the jury's presence and, on behalf of the President, his Private Secretary, and the Minister of Internal Affairs.  After touring the patient rooms and answering questions related to different causes, the examinee went to the amphitheater. She performed the requested dissections on a corpse, which earned her unanimous approval. The medical newspapers ignored the news of her professional examination. Still, even the most conservative, the national press praised her and said she should be supported because it was a significant step forward.

After graduation, Matilde Montoya worked in her private practice until an advanced age. She always had two offices, one in Mixcoac, where she lived, and another in Santa María, the Ribera. She cared for all kinds of patients, charging each one according to his possibilities. She participated in women's associations such as the "Ateneo Mexicano de Mujeres" and "Las Hijas de Anáhuac." However, she was not invited to any association or medical academy, still exclusive to men. In 1923 she attended the Second Pan American Conference of Women. Two years later, together with Dr. Aurora Uribe, she founded the Mexican Medical Association.

Fifty years after Matilde Montoya graduated, in August 1937, the Association of Mexican Doctors, the Association of Mexican University Women, and the Ateneo de Mujeres offered her a tribute in the Manuel M. Ponce Room of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. She died five months later, on January 26, 1938, at the age of 79.

Matilde Montoya left an indelible legacy: she expanded the possibilities of work not only for those who wanted to study medicine but also for women.

Thank you, Matilde!

Traducción: Valentina K. Yanes