Petticoat Surgeon is the life story of one of the most remarkable women living today — a woman who has risen to the heights of the medical profession despite every sort of obstacle, a woman whose career is a blazing example of feminine achievement, through courage and determination, in what is still, in many ways, a “man’s world.”
At the age of eighty-five — and still actively practicing her profession — Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen can look back on a lifetime richer in endeavor and accomplishment than a dozen ordinary lives. She has been one of the pioneer women in American medicine. She has performed thousands upon thousands of operations in many countries, often before audiences of medical students eager to learn her techniques. In the city of Chicago alone she has brought more than 10,000 babies into the world. She has come to know human nature as only a doctor can after decades of private practice. She has been a leader in the acceptance and use of that blessing to women in childbirth, Twilight Sleep. She has been the first woman doctor to campaign for sex education. She has traveled through Europe and the Orient, always seeing life with a doctor’s sharp eye. She has been elected to honorary membership in the International Women’s Medical Association — the first woman to be so honored since Marie Curie. The list of her achievements could go on and on. But it is not her achievements alone that make Bertha Van Hoosen’s life the engrossing and inspiring story that it is. Equally it is the stout-hearted tenacity that has made her achievements possible. For Bertha Van Hoosen has had to fight for the right to excel in her field, and fought she has — with her wits, with her abilities, and with her indomitable spirit.
No brief description could convey the richness of experience that is packed into the story of this long and fruitful life. There is drama here — the life and death drama in which a doctor plays so vital a role. There is laughter, too, for all her life Bertha Van Hoosen has been blessed with a salty sense of humor. There is the endless fascination of medical lore and medical stories. There is utter frankness of language, for as a doctor — and one who has fought for sex education — Bertha Van Hoosen believes in plain speaking. There is honest hatred of prejudice and discrimination. There is friendship, for Bertha Van Hoosen is a person of deep loyalties, and there is love — the love of family centered around the old family home in Stony Creek — a love that has sustained and refreshed her through all her struggles. And above all there is the devotion to a great lifework, a devotion so passionate and courageous that no amount of opposition or discouragement could shake it.
Petticoat Surgeon is so rich a book that many different readers will find many different favorite things to remember about it. But everyone who reads it will realize that Bertha Van Hoosen is a shining witness to the truth of her own favorite motto: “Every hour brings light.”