Women’s History Month: Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
by Cadence Brown
Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell was a groundbreaking woman in history, specifically in the medical field. In 1849, she was the first woman to graduate from a medical college in the United States; making her the first woman physician in the modern world. She was born in England, but immigrated to the United States at the age of 11. Her father was heavily involved in abolition work, and this is part of what prompted them to make the move to America. Her father died in 1838, which left the family in hard financial times. She went into the teaching field after this occurred.
She was influenced by a friend who was dying and“said her ordeal would have been better had she had a female physician.” At this time, very few medical colleges would accept a woman. During her time teaching, she began studying medicine with mentorship from male physicians. In 1847, she started her medical school admission journey. She was rejected by almost all of the medical schools she applied to, but eventually, she was admitted to Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York. This acceptance was actually meant to be a “practical joke.” (Michals) Her time in medical college was one full of discrimination and ostracization by peers and people in the town. This obstructed her learning in ways such as being excluded from class demonstrations, being in a separate setting in lectures, and blocked from labs. She had determination through the many challenges, and in 1849, graduated first in her class at Geneva Medical College.
Dr. Blackwell moved to London to pursue further medical training and began a midwifery program at La Maternité. During this experience, she developed an infectious eye disease. This resulted in blindness in one eye, and any hopes of being a surgeon out the window. In 1851, she traveled back to New York. Yet again, she was faced with endless discrimination and had difficulty finding jobs in hospitals and clinics. Dr. Blackwell started a private practice, but that too was slow to start. In 1852, she published her first book The Laws of Life, with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls. She continued on to open a small dispensary and was eventually joined by Dr. Emily Blackwell (her younger sister), and by Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewska. This became a much larger dispensary, and was named the “New York Infirmary for Women and Children.” During the Civil War, Dr. Blackwell assisted in structuring the Women's Central Association of Relief and the U.S. Sanitary Commission. She had a major role of selecting and training nurses for this time of service in the war.
In 1868, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, alas, opened her very own medical college in New York City. She set distinguished admission standards, excellent academic and clinical training, and certification for the Woman’s Medical College.
Dr. Blackwell moved back to England permanently in 1869. She had several accomplishments in this time, including opening her own private practice and helping assemble the National Health Society. Notably, she became a professor of gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Women.
Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell paved the way for women in medicine. Her mark is forever seen in today’s strong, successful, and talented women physicians. She has inspired so many women to follow in her footsteps, including me.
“Elizabeth Blackwell.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 30 Jan. 2021, www.britannica.com/biography/Elizabeth-Blackwell.
Michals, Edited by Debra. “Elizabeth Blackwell.” National Women's History Museum, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/elizabeth-blackwell.