Korean J Med Hist.  2012 Apr;21(1):25-66.

Life and Works of Heo Yeng-suk, the First Female Medical Practitioner in Modern Korea

  • 1School of Humanities & Social Science, KAIST, Daejeon, Korea. shindongwon@kaist.ac.kr


Heo Yongsuk (1897-1975) was the second female medical doctor to study Western medicine in a foreign country, the second female journalist, and the one of the representative 'new modern woman' in Korea. She is unfamiliar, however, to Korean people. Few historians of medicine and few researchers of the history of literature recall her for her own achievements, instead remembering her as a wife who saved her husband, Yi Gwangsu (1892~1950), the great novelist, from his dreadful tuberculosis. Removing her from the shadow of Yi Gwangsu, this paper tries to uncover her life and her contribution to Korean society during the Japanese colonial period. As a pioneer, she went to Japan to study medicine in 1914 for the purpose of breaking down the long-established custom of female patients, who abhorred showing their bodies to male doctors. After acquiring her license, she opened in Korea for women and children, though this clinic had a brief span of only two years owing to her devotion to caring for her husband as his disease worsened. She became a reporter in place of her husband for about two years. However, with her efforts, she gave women a considerable amount of useful medical information. She wrote many enlightening articles to awaken Korean women's 'nationalistic spirit' against Japanese colonial oppression. She is worthy of a favorable evaluation as the second female reporter and the first who specialized in medicine in the history of newspapers in Korea. As a 'new modern woman,' she presented her own thinking about the best role model for married females, by saying, "Be good mother and good wife in the family household, it is the best way to strengthen Korean race." When she became pregnant, she resigned her job as a reporter. She exerted herself by bringing up her children and nursing her sick husband, gaining fame as the representative of the conservative women's movement. Medical knowledge was always behind her various activities. She can be evaluated successfully as a medical doctor; after studying newly developed medical theory and skills for about two years in Japan, she established first the specialized hospital for delivery in 1937 and had great success. As a successful female doctor, she projected a positive image of a new modern woman who was loyal to her family household, unlike many famous modern females who pursued women's liberation during the Japanese colonial period.


women doctor Yi Gwangsu; Kim Jeomdong (Park Esther); women reporter; modern women; hospital for delivery; general practitioner; Tokyo women's medical school; Donga-daily; on reconstruction of Korean people

MeSH Terms

Asian Continental Ancestry Group
Family Characteristics
General Practitioners
Mitochondrial Diseases
Women's Rights
Mitochondrial Diseases
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