Up till 1849, the field of medicine was completely composed of men. Elizabeth Blackwell changed this by becoming the first female physician in America.
Elizabeth Blackwell’s Family
Blackwell was born in England on February 3, 1821. She was one among nine children born to Hannah Lane and Samuel Blackwell. Her family moved from Bristol, England, to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832, and her father passed away in 1838, leaving the family impecunious.
Her Inspiration and Pursue
Blackwell’s passion for medicine was awakened when a dying friend told her that she would’ve suffered less if she was treated by a female physician. Blackwell initially worked as a schoolteacher, but after hearing this, she began applying to medical schools. She was rejected from all medical schools she applied to because of her gender. Finally, she was accepted into Geneva College, although her acceptance was supposed to be a joke.
Struggles due to sexism
Elizabeth faced many struggles in and out of college due to sexism. At college, she was often excluded from labs and forced to sit separately form other students. The townspeople shunned her for defying gender roles, yet she flourished in school, graduating first in her class and eventually earning the respect of her peers and professors.
After graduating in 1849, she continued her training in London and Paris hospitals, but returned to NY in 1851. There, she opened a small clinic to treat poor women. In 1857, along with her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell and colleague Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, she expanded her clinic into the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. During the Civil war, she and her sister trained nurses. Finally, in 1868, she opened a medical college in NYC, and in 1869 she placed her sister in charge, returning permanently to London, where she became a professor of gynecology at the new London School of Medicine for Women. There, Blackwell helped found the National Health Society and wrote many books, one of which being an autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women.
Elizabeth Blackwell opened the gate of medicine for women in America by becoming the first woman to graduate medical school and become a doctor there. Her actions showed other aspiring female doctors that they could defy gender roles and follow their dreams. We owe our thanks to Blackwell for opening the gates for the approximately 359,409 female doctors in America today.
National Women’s History Museum