J. J. Zarranz Neurosciences and History 2022;10(1): 1-8
Type of article: ORIGINAL
J. J. Zarranz Emeritus Chair of the Department of Neurosciences. Universidad del País Vasco-EHU, Barakaldo, Spain.
Introduction. Jean Martin Charcot is unanimously considered one of the fathers of neurology, not only in France but worldwide. He conducted his pioneering work entirely at the Hospice de La Salpêtrière, a women’s asylum for the elderly, disabled, beggars, and abandoned girls; at first glance, this may seem the least appropriate of places to conduct research. However, Charcot was able to see the great potential of that huge population of marginalised women, a “living museum,” as he himself called it with undisguised cynicism, for the long-term observation of diseases and their pathological bases. Charcot’s career at La Salpêtrière, spanning more than 30 years, revealed his tremendous skills in medical and scientific development, based on the anatomical-clinical method, as well as his self-centred, obsessive, dominant, and even tyrannical attitude towards his patients, collaborators, and relatives. No one dared disagree with the opinions of the “Caesar of La Salpêtrière,” as he was known.
Material and results. On the occasion of the centenary of Charcot’ s birth, George Guillain, one of his most famous biographers, recalled a little-known anecdote. One day Charcot joined a rowdy party organised by residents. According to Guillain, the following morning, Mlle Bottard, the chief nurse who is represented in the famous painting Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière (A clinical lesson at La Salpêtrière), dared to reprimand Charcot; she was probably the only woman to do so.
Conclusion. We highlight the figure of Mlle Bottard in the historical and political context of the incorporation of secular nurses at La Salpêtrière.
Bottard, Charcot, Guillain, La Salpêtrière
Neurosciences and History 2022;10(1): 1-8
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