Elizabeth Blackwell, born in Bristol, a doctor in New York

From the Writer’s Almanac for 3 February.

“It’s the birthday of the first woman to graduate from medical school, Elizabeth Blackwell, born on this day in Bristol, England, in 1821. She wanted to become a doctor because she knew that many women would rather discuss their health problems with another woman. She read medical texts and studied with doctors, but she was rejected by all the big medical schools. Finally the Geneva Medical College (which became Hobart College) in upstate New York accepted her. The faculty wasn’t sure what to do with such a qualified candidate, and so they turned the decision over to the students. The male students voted unanimously to accept her. Her classmates and even professors considered many medical subjects too delicate for a woman, and didn’t think she should be allowed to attend lectures on the reproductive system. But she graduated, became a doctor, and opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.”

From Changing the Face of Medicine:

She also published several important books on the issue of women in medicine, including Medicine as a Profession For Women in 1860 and Address on the Medical Education of Women in 1864.

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England in 1821, to Hannah Lane and Samuel Blackwell. Both for financial reasons and because her father wanted to help abolish slavery, the family moved to America when Elizabeth was 11 years old. Her father died in 1838. As adults, his children campaigned for women’s rights and supported the anti-slavery movement.

In her book Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women, published in 1895, Dr. Blackwell wrote that she was initially repelled by the idea of studying medicine. She said she had “hated everything connected with the body, and could not bear the sight of a medical book… My favourite studies were history and metaphysics, and the very thought of dwelling on the physical structure of the body and its various ailments filled me with disgust.” Instead she went into teaching, then considered more suitable for a woman. She claimed that she turned to medicine after a close friend who was dying suggested she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign in with Twitter

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.