In the Hands of Women
In the Hands of Women, a riveting historical suspense novel, centers on the life of Hannah Isaacson, an obstetrician in training, determined to improve medical safety for women in a time when women had few choices. This carefully researched work, set in Baltimore and New York City in the year 1900, when birth control and abortion were both illegal, leaves us contemplating whether history is repeating itself.
With the advent of obstetrics and anesthesia as distinct fields of practice at the turn of the twentieth century, hospital births rapidly gained popularity. Midwives, who previously cared for these women, began supplementing their shrinking incomes with abortions, sometimes performing dangerous midterm abortions with disastrous consequences.
Hannah, a devoted women’s advocate and suffragist, finds herself overwhelmed by the ignorance and medical needs of her patients, poor and wealthy. She is determined to make a difference and joins Margaret Sanger in her crusade to overturn the restrictive Comstock Laws prohibiting birth control. After coming to the aid of a woman dying from a butchered abortion, Hannah is charged with murder and sent to the terrifying Blackwell’s Prison to await her trial. With the support of influential friends, including the female trustees of Johns Hopkins Medical School, she challenges the Governor of New York with a novel proposition.
IN THE HANDS OF WOMEN
"To write this novel, Rubin did extensive research about the plight women faced at the beginning of the 20th century in terms of their physical and mental health. Rubin documents such facts that women’s resources for medical care were controlled by men; their ability to receive medical care for childbirth, contraception, and abortion was completely restricted by men and laws promulgated by men. This history in no way impedes the author’s ability to tell her story.
Rubin’s heroine, Hannah Isaacson, an obstetrician in New York City, has worked hard to earn a medical degree at Johns Hopkins University. She sees firsthand the difficulties women face, and she vows to rectify them. Hannah’s experience is personally sharpened when she is unwittingly accused of performing an abortion.
The plot of this novel traces Hannah’s experience from her medical school days through her prison trials at the notorious Blackwell Prison, to winning a large grant from the governor to improve the health care facilities and personnel for women, particularly poor immigrant women who are arriving in New York in record numbers during this time period…The action moves quickly and keeps the reader totally absorbed.
Hannah meets the outrageous and charming Margaret Sanger in her quest, and Sanger adds an interesting subplot with her suffragist ambitions. Other well-drawn minor characters include Hannah’s loving sister, Tillie, who raised her; Dr. Boro, who fostered her medical ambitions; and Joseph, a fellow doctor…
Rubin’s writing style is energetically detailed…"
Historical Novel Society
"Rubin has written a fascinating novel, well-paced and brimming with historical detail. It’s 1905 in New York City, a time and place of dramatic social changes. Hannah Isaacson has graduated from a major university with an MD in obstetrics but faces widespread discrimination as a professional woman. She encounters chronic antisemitism, realistically depicted. One can’t help cheering her on as she fights for decent health care for women, for equality within the medical profession, and for respect in her own personal relationships. Ultimately, In the Hands of Women is a compelling and heartwarming historical novel. "
Libby H. O’Connell
Chief Historian Emeritus, History Channel, and author, THE AMERICAN PLATE
"Vividly written and meticulously researched, In the Hands of Women is a gripping story of female friendship, the challenges women doctors faced in the early 1900s, and the noxious impact of antisemitism. Young obstetrician Hannah Isaacson returns home to her beloved sister and to a job at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1905 after becoming one of the first female graduates of the Johns Hopkins Medical School. But Hannah’s passion for helping pregnant women–at a time when birth control and abortion were illegal–puts her life at risk and leads to high-stake confrontations with her fiancé and some of New York’s most powerful men. I lost myself in this novel as I followed Hannah from high-society restaurants and lower East Side tenements to New York City's hospitals and jails … And I cheered for her every step of the way. I’m crossing my fingers Jane Rubin is working on her next tale starring Hannah and her friends. "
Agatha Award-nominated author of THE TURNCOAT’S WIDOW and
THE COUNTERFEIT WIFE
"In the Hands of Women by Jane Loeb Rubin is a newly released work of medical historical fiction. Set in 1900, in Baltimore and New York, it follows the story of Hannah Isaacson, a young Jewish female physician. During her training, watching the poor obstetrical care provided by male physicians and appalled by the dangerous abortions being performed by midwives (who were being driven out of business by the rising interest in hospital-based deliveries and who needed new sources of income), Hannah makes it her mission to provide better care for pregnant women.
During her time at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, she not only learns medicine but also how to work around male egos in order to accomplish her goals. (She has to let them take the credit for her ideas and work.) Painfully, she also discovers that too many men are not to be trusted. Nevertheless, she lands her dream job, an obstetrics residency at Mount Sinai in New York. But her troubles are only beginning.
This novel delves into the historical problems of placing care of women’s health exclusively in male hands. It demonstrates how broader socioeconomic problems affect health care, particularly for women. And it calls out the dangers of limited access to contraception, especially for the poor. While we may be tempted to be thankful for the progress of the last 100 years, such gratitude may be premature. For anyone paying attention, it looks an awful lot like we are heading backwards rather than forwards. This novel deftly illustrates all that is at risk."
Author - THE QUEEN'S DAUGHTER, A 2011 Bankstreet Best Children's Book of the Year!
"Jane Rubin’s stunning debut, In The Hands Of Women, is historical fiction at its best. Hannah Isaacson, a young doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital is a force, fighting for women’s healthcare in the early 1900’s. She confronts anti-semitism and demands equal treatment in her professional and personal life. With empathy, Rubin takes us through the travails of the medical system when poor women had little access to good maternity care. Her impeccable research weaves the subjects of midwifery and abortion within the intricacies of the twentieth century class system in New York. Rubin’s characters stay with me. They’re compassionate, smart, and strong. Reading this page-turner gave me more than a thrilling read. It gave me a lesson on history and how we can do better. I couldn’t put it down."
"A rallying cry from the past to women of today to defend our rights, especially our medical ones – and a reminder of the horrors that can occur when we don’t. An immaculately researched and immersive debut novel."
Award-winning author of BEYOND THE GHETTO GATES
"The author deftly captures the social challenges for women of the era, when sexism restricted their access to the best protections that science could offer. One can’t help but be impressed by the rigor of the author’s research; ..." "The depiction of the era in which Hannah lives is so vividly instructive that it makes this a worthwhile read, especially at a time when its principal lessons seem on the verge of being forgotten"