Review: Women in White Coats by Olivia Campbell


My Interest

I like well-written nonfiction. That the book is the story of a  group of pioneering women makes it even more interesting.

The Story

Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Sophia Jex-Blake were the trailblazers for women in medicine. In the United States and in the UK, these women struggled to obtain the education and the educational qualifications necessary to legally practice medicine.

Each woman’s individual story is told giving full details of how they managed to arrange the tuition necessary in the various sciences and to obtain permissions to attend lectures, see practice on hospital wards and visit homes in the cause of public health. Crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic, traversing the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and venturing to the hallowed halls of the Sorbonne and of other European schools, the women were indefatigable in their quest to become doctors.

In an age in which merely being taught basic arithmetic was not a given for girls of any class, these women sought not only higher mathematics tuition, but teaching and practice of science, something they were considered “too delicate” or insufficiently intelligent to study. The same arguments were given for opposing women’s entry into medicine–aside from begrudging acceptance as nurses and midwives. While Blackwell found a loophole to scrape through and achieve registry with the Apothecaries, the others went through more hoops than anyone today would put up with–and usually just to be thwarted.

My Thoughts

Overall, this was a fascinating book. The women’s stories were engaging and the trials they faced were demanding. I was struck by the similarity in tactics (in some cases, not all) between the women and the students who integrated all-white Southern universities in the early 1960s. These women took the jeers, and catcalls, and all the rest. One even changed her diet to almost starvation, to avoid blushing. That is dedication to a cause. She was determined to hold to her decision not to raise to the bait.

Unfortunately, I thought the author did a disservice to her subject in a few ways though. She resorted to generalities, especially about men. She gave perhaps more attention than was needed to the women’s personal lives–so judicious cutting in this area would have helped. The story often seemed repetitive–it really wasn’t but because each women went through so many of the same trial or similar trials with similar institutions, it felt that way. A journalist by profession, Campbell can certainly spin a good story, but she went overboard trying to hold to the most “cutting edge” language of our day to describe the past.

What I mean by that is not only the hard-won elevation of “slaves” to enslaved people–and the women described deserved that term unreservedly for their heroism. If you thought Henrietta Lacks was treated horrendously, wait till you read about Alabama’s Antebellum version of Joseph Mengele (I am not slighting anything any one suffered in the Holocaust with this comparison. Read about these poor women and you’ll understand the hell the endured). That one I could understand completely. But writing of “birthing persons” instead of women or mothers in a mid-19 century hospital was absurd. No one in that era even gave a thought to the surgical and hormonal change of one sex/gender to the other. It sounded even sillier than it does in  modern usage (and it is silly, as are the ridiculous terms “chest feeding” or “menstruating persons”).

At times I felt like I was reading this in a game of “Woke Bingo.” Not only the “birthing persons” thing, but all the others–“through the lens of” and the obligatory description of a man as a “misogynist.” I nearly rolled my eyes out of action. How did she skip using “exercising agency”? Or. did I miss that in a fraught traffic moment (I was listening on my commute). All of this cheapened the book, as did silly phrases like “blow-back.” She detracted from the women’s story with this type of thing.

There were also lapses in rigor such as saying someone was “probably” the first women to enroll at St. Andrews University. “Probably?” Do you mean to tell me the University doesn’t know who its first woman student was? Or that you couldn’t Google the answer? Universities trot that sort of information out all the time for things like International Women’s Day. That was shoddy scholarship.

I cannot, this time, say these are “picky” things. They really did lessen the impact of the women’s stories. This was an important story to tell and one that today’s young women and girls need to hear. At a time when women almost (almost) take for granted that 50% of American medical students are female, those same students need to remember what it took to get them there.

My Verdict


Women in White Coats by Olivia Campbell

Fiction and Nonfiction Pairing

Anne Perry’s William Monk series is the perfect fictional counterpart to this book. Set in the same time period, in London, it features Hester Latterly, the female lead character. She is a well-born woman who trained as a nurse under Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War and feels stifled by the rigid rules of propriety in Victorian England. She wants to work and learn just like the women in Campbell’s book. Hester works tirelessly to advance the cause of access to high-quality medical care for all women and children regardless of income or morals–subjects well covered in the Women in White Coats story.


Run for the Roses: New Nonfiction Horse Racing Books for Derby Week!

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The Run for tee Roses, aka The Kentucky Derby, IS America’s horse race. People who never give horse racing a thought will watch the brief race on t.v. In Louisville, the home of Churchill Downs where the race is held, parties are held with mint juleps, Hot Brown sandwiches, Derby Pie, and other goodies each year (see this post for more on the special foods). It’s the one day in America when a lady’s hat matters! Except for the First Lady on Inauguration Day, I can’t think of another day on which American ladies put on a hat anymore.

Most Americans can name Secretariat and Seabiscuit thanks to the popular books/movies, and possibly still Man O’War and a few others, but there is more to horse racing than just the Derby [pronounced Der-bee here]. You can read about those books in the other post (here’s another link to it). Horse racing is a popular sport in many parts of the world. While I am giving some books today on American horse racing, others will be from around the world. Place your bets and enjoy the races!

The Books

The Ones To Pre-Order

The Triple Crown winner, those horses who’ve won the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes, all in one season, are among the world’s greatest athletes. This book, due out in August, tells their stories. The Lucky Thirteen: The Winners of America’s Triple Crown of Horse Racing by Edward Bowen, can be pre-ordered now.

“An exploration of living and working at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans comprising photography, interviews, and personal correspondence of jockeys, horse groomers, trainers, and other key backside players.” (Amazon). This book was scheduled to release on April 1, 2021, but has not yet appeared. The Horses Pulled Me Back To Them: Life On The Backside Of The New Orleans Fair Grounds by Aubrey Dawne Edwards, Jay Addison, and Frank Bernis.

The New One

Newly out in April, author Nicholson returns to horse racing to look at “Zev,” a horse billed as “racing for America.” This book looks at the lives of the major players in the race, including the scandalous and even criminal background of Zev’s owner. Racing for America by James C. Nicholason. See Nicholson’s older book, Never Say Die. It tells the story of the Kentucky-bred horse who won the 1954 Epson Derby.

When I read the blurb on this one, I immediately added it to my TBR: “Czechoslovakia, October 1937. Vast crowds have gathered to watch the threatened nation’s most prestigious sporting contest: the Grand Pardubice steeplechase. Notoriously dangerous, the race is considered the ultimate test of manhood and fighting spirit. The Nazis have sent elite SS officers to crush the “subhuman Slavs.” The local cavalry officers have no hope of stopping them. But there is one other contestant: a countess riding a little golden mare…” (Amazon).  Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race by Richard Askwith.

The Mongol Derby, a horse race composed of 25 wild ponies competing over approximately 621 miles (i.e. 1,000 kilometers) sounds undoable. But the author of Rough Magic set out to ride it–at age 19! Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer.

Jim Crow drove most of the African American jockeys and trainers out of American horse racing. This book tells the story of the “hidden” aspects of Kentucky Derby history.  Hidden History of Horse Racing in Kentucky by Foster Ockerman Jr.

Do you know of other new nonfiction books related in any way to horse racing? Leave me a comment or a link to your post.


Nonfiction November Week 1: My Year in Nonfiction


Thank you to Nonfiction November hosts: Katie of Doing Dewey, Julz of Julz Reads, Rennie of What’s Nonfiction, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, and Leann of Shelf Aware. Each of the five week’s features a special topic. This week’s topic is the year’s nonfiction:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?


My Interest

For years I read nonfiction almost exclusively. Then in 2008 I took my current job and moved to my current house. My 1.25-hour commute each way meant I now listen to a lot of fiction to pass the time. I still get in a good bit of nonfiction though. This challenge will take me back to my love of nonfiction.

The Questions


What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichel–it was so much more of a book than I expected. I love foodie books and foodie memoirs, love browsing cookbooks, and enjoy cooking, but this was also a darned good read.


Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? Much of my nonfiction reading always concerns royal history, and World War I and II. I enjoy social history the most. I read two books relating to violence or prison and was surprised by how fascinated I was by both–American Prison and American Summer.

51rowt2ce2l._sx331_bo1204203200_What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? Twelve Patients: Life and Death in Bellevue Hospital by Eric Mannheimer. We are all affected by our messed up health care payment system. This book shows that and more.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November? Just to enjoy reading or listening to well-written nonfiction “stories” of history or interesting persons or new-to-me places.

The Total to Date

Of the 73 books read/listened to so far this year, 17 were nonfiction. This month, obviously, I will read/listen to more nonfiction.

The Books

Click the linked title to go to my review

Twelve Patients: Life and Death in Bellevue Hospital by Eric Mannheimer

Why I Left the Amish by Salmoma Miller Furlong

White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll by James Fox

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichel

Rocket Girl by George D. Morgan

A Well-Read Woman: The Life, Loves & Legacy of Ruth Rappaport by Katie Stewart

American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinor Pruitt Stewart

American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz

Hitler and the Hapsburgs by James Longo

The Assassination of the Archduke by Greg King and Sue Woolmans

Princess: The Early Life of Queen Elizabeth II by Jane Dinsmore

Claiming My Place by Planaria Price

Journey Interrupted: A Family Without a Country by Hildegarde Mahoney

Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power by Andrew Nagorski

American Prison: A Reporter’s Underground Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer

1947: Where Now Begins by Elizabeth Asbrink

It’s not too late to join in! Post this week’s topic and link it at Julz Reads.


Ten Books To Get Your Book Club to Love Nonfiction

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Are you tired of reading the be-all, end-all novel of the week? Get your book club to try some nonfiction that reads like fiction. You’ll be surprised how much more there is to talk about.


Three Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway

They didn’t wait for “perfect” to become champions.


Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Prison isn’t what you think it is. Nor is it what you watch on the t.v. show.


Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chung

Find out why America was priced out of manufacturing. Want to live in a dorm? They do.


In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson

When an American Ambassador loses control of his daughter and loses control of his mission.


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Life renewed, regained and refreshed thru nature.


A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity.

Yes, you can change the world. See how.


Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

The got tired of going to paint and wine parties of their day and did something with their lives.


Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War

The power of one person doing what is right.


Dream Land by Sam Quinones

How the heroin epidemic happened.


My life in France by Julia Child

What can happen when a housewife gets bored.