Gingo Ogino: Japan’s First Female Physician
Ginko Ogino was the first woman doctor licensed to practice western medicine in Japan . She had to overcome enormous prejudice and numerous obstacles in a strongly patriarchal society, that regarded medicine as a profession only for men.
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Ogino was born in 1851 in Musashi province which in the present times is known as Kumagaya city. When she was 16 her family had Arranged marriage into a wealthy family. Her husband was the son of the first director of Ashikaga Bank. However, like most men of his times, her husband too frequented prostitutes, from which he contracted gonorrhea and subsequently transmitted it to her. It was considered a shameful disease, and not wanting to continue living with the humiliation of it at her in-laws house, Ogino returned to her parent’s home. Thereupon she decided she wanted a divorce even though divorce at that time was uncommon and also considered scandalous.
The Decision to Become A Doctor
When Ogino went to the hospital at the city for the treatment of her disease she found the experience of being intimately handled by male doctors humiliating. However, there were no female doctors at the time and that is when she decided that she would become one herself. She was convinced that a lot of women like her in Japan who were suffering with gonorrhea did not go for treatment because they feared the embarrassment of being treated by male doctors. She decided that she would become a doctor to help these women.
The Battle to Become a Physician
Uncommon as it was for women to be divorced in Japan in the late 1800s it was even more unsual for them to study and enter what was regarded as a profession only for men. Ogino did not receive much support from her family thereafter, but she continued on the path of her dreams alone. She first graduated from Tokyo Women’s Normal School (present-day Ochanomizu University), and then joined the Juntendo University. She was the first woman at the all-male University and suffered tremendous harassment and prejudice. She was also always constrained for money. However after a lot of hardship, she graduated in 1882. Her hurdle thereafter was that she would not be allowed to sit for the medical practitioner’s examination. She refused to give up and after numerous petitions, was finally allowed to take her medical practitioner’s examination in 1885.
Thereupon, the very first year after she became the first registered woman doctor in Japan, she started the Ogino Hospital in Yushima. There she set up a flourishing practice for women patients. She worked with obstetrics and gynecology and received numerous women with sexually transmitted diseases who she helped just as she had dreamed. She also served as staff doctor to the girl’s school of Meiji Gakuin University. Ogino’s entrance into medicine also broke the glass ceiling, and encouraged many other women in Japan to also enter the medical field.
Her Marriage and Final Years
In 1890 Ogino got married again, this time to a Protestant clergyman and utopian visionary, Yukiyoshi Shikata with whom she shared a common vision of a more progressive society for Japan. She also became active in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In 1894 she left her thriving practice in the city and accompanied her husband to Hokkaidō where she assisted him in his Christian mission. After her husband died, she came back to Tokyo in 1908 tried to resume her practice. Ogino’s health had been ravaged by the gonorrhea which she had battled all her life. She died of atherosclerosis in Tokyo in 1913. Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Junichi Watanabe is a novel closely based on Ogino’s life.
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- Women in Science