Do our choices show who we already are? Or do they help form the people we become? The question of how our choices make or change our characters has been debated for centuries. But when I hear people discussing choices, I often think of Ginko Ogino (1851-1913), the first licensed female doctor of Western medicine in Japan.
Ogino contracted a sexually transmitted disease from her first husband, which resulted in their divorce. The disease caused her great pain and made her infertile. She felt shamed by the invasive medical treatments carried out by male doctors.
She became convinced that Japan needed female doctors. She decided to apply to medical school. There was no precedent for female students in medical school, and her family refused to support her decision. But Ogino overcame enormous personal and bureaucratic obstacles to achieve her goal, blazing the trail for licensed female doctors in Japan.
At age 35, Ogino opened a women’s clinic in Tokyo that became very popular. She became a leader in the national health education movement and was active in many other issues that affected women at the time. She was part of the rapidly shifting social changes in Tokyo. But then she made an important decision.
At the height of a successful career, Ogino chose to get remarried to a young Christian seminary student named Yukiyoshi Shikata. His dream was to establish a Christian farming community in the wilderness of Hokkaido. Ogino wanted to support this dream, so she closed her clinic and followed her husband to the distant north.
Life in the untamed wilderness was harsher than they had imagined. Many of their colleagues lost their lives. Finally, the couple had to abandon the project. They moved with their adopted daughter to the coastal town of Setana, where Ogino opened a clinic to support her struggling family.
But the times had changed. She was no longer unique as a female doctor. She was no longer at the cutting edge of her profession. She was not famous in Hokkaido, as she had been in Tokyo. Her husband died in 1905 at the age of 47. Three years later, she finally returned to Tokyo. In 1913, Ginko Ogino died without fanfare. She was 62.
Ogino was severely criticized by both friends and family for many of her choices. But she did not make her choices to win approval or to make history. She made choices according to her own moral standards. They led her to fame, and then from fame to relative obscurity. But she has not been forgotten. I, for one, think of her as a worthy model for the women of today. (Deborah Davidson)