Happy Birthday Elizabeth Blackwell!
This month I started reading Generation Roe about the current pro-life culture in the United States (side note: TOTALLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK!) In a chapter about medical history it was noted that Elizabeth Blackwell was the first accredited female doctor in the United States, earning this title in 1949. When I looked up more information I found that her birthday was February 3, 1821. Clearly a sign to start back up the monthly birthday posts.
Born in England Blackwell’s family moved to the United States in 1821. Along with her mother and sister Blackwell helped open a private school, later deciding that she would pursue medicine for her own studies.
After studying with a doctor independently for some time she applied to medical schools. Blackwell was rejected by all the leading medical schools she applied to but was finally accepted to the Geneva Medical School in New York. As a woman Blackwell faced a lot of criticism in school.
When her application arrived at Geneva Medical College at Geneva, New York, the administration asked the students to decide whether to admit her or not. The students, reportedly believing it to be only a practical joke, endorsed her admission.When they discovered that she was serious, both students and townspeople were horrified. She had few allies and was an outcast in Geneva. At first, she was even kept from classroom medical demonstrations, as inappropriate for a woman.
She pushed through to graduate in 1849. In 1853 she opened a clinic in New York, the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children. Four years later she and her sister, also a doctor, created the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.
Blackwell began lecturing in Great Britain, becoming the first woman to have her name on the British medical register in 1959. Upon returning to the United States her and her sisters organized the Women’s Central Association of Relief during the Civil War. This project inspired the creation of the United States Sanitary Commission, that the Blackwells somehow found time to also be a part of.
As if all of this were not enough Blackwell created a medical school exclusively for women in the 1860’s becoming chair of hygiene herself. Her position there was short-lived as she traveled back to England the following year. After going back to England she assisted with the organization of the National Health Society and later founded the London School of Medicine for Women. In 1875 Blackwell was appointed Professor of gynaecology at the London School of Medicine for Children. It was here she stayed until her retirement in 1907. Blackwell passed away in 1910 in her home in Sussex.
Blackwell was an incredible woman for a whole host of reasons. Not only for her perseverance in the medical field but the topics she discussed. She pushed through when there was literally no other female role models for her to turn to, no other women who had gone through her experience. Blackwell pioneered medicine for women and children, unafraid to cover the topics that were often seen as taboo.
“If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled.”