Merit-Ptah circa 2700 BCE
Art by J Bea Young (twitter, tumblr)
Merit-Ptah is the first woman known by name in the history of science. Little is known of her life, but according to the tomb her son created for her in Egypt, Merit-Ptah was “the chief physician.”
A handful of physicians are known by name from this early period and there is some debate over the exact timeline. Merit-Ptah’s life likely overlapped with that Imhotep, the man most often considered the first named physician in history. Another male physician, Hesy-Ra, is believed to have lived at around the same time as Merit-Ptah and Imhotep. Peseshet is sometimes named as the first female physician, but she is likely at least a generation younger than Merit-Ptah, Imhotep, and Hesy-Ra.
Peseshet was referred to as the “lady overseer of the female physicians” during the Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt. This shows there were a number of female medical professionals working in Egypt 4,600 years ago. Peseshet is believed to have been involved in gynecological and obstetrical training at the ancient Egyptian medical school at Sais. An inscription at Sais gives insight to the training of early medical practitioners: "I have come from the medical school at Heliopolis, and have studied at the woman’s school at Sais where the divine mothers have taught me how to cure disease.”