Across the country there are schools and medical centers named after Elizabeth Blackwell. You may remember the Elizabeth Blackwell Center here in Columbus,which was closed in 2014, but had opened in 1985 as the city’s first free-standing women’s center. There is even a Blackwell Award given by Hobart and William Smith Colleges to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humanity But who was Elizabeth Blackwell? Let's take a deeper look into the first woman to be granted a medical degree in the United States.
In the 1840s, after many life events pointed her in this direction, Elizabeth (shown right, circa 1850) realized that becoming a doctor could be a real moral victory for women. She began to apply to medical schools and was declined by 28 of them before New York’s Geneva College finally accepted her, almost as a joke. The joke was on them when she graduated at the top of her class! Facing hostility and skepticism from other physicians and members of the community, she borrowed money from a friend to open up a clinic of her own in the slums of lower Manhattan, The New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children. It soon became a success and the workload grew so heavy that Elizabeth’s sister, Emily, who was a medical student, joined her at the clinic to help out with patients.
Elizabeth Blackwell spent the rest of her life in the medical field, healing the sick, opening a medical school for women, and lecturing extensively on hygiene, nutrition, family planning, and sex education. She faced male opposition her whole life, but never let that deter her from her dream of becoming the first female doctor in America and inspiring other young women who, like her, were eager to make a difference in the world and were not going to let convention stand in their way. Check out some of these great resources from our Reference department to learn more about this amazing woman!
- Medical Education for Women during the Nineteenth Century
- 1847: Philadelphia: Elizabeth Blackwell Gains Admission, an Excerpt from Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women by Elizabeth Blackwell
- To the Ends of the Earth: Women's Search for Education in Medicine
- Tough cookies: determined women who changed the course of history
- “Women will not be what they are now”—Elizabeth Blackwell Breaks the Bonds
- “Is a Woman Less a Woman When She is a Doctor?, an article from the New York Times published in 1906.
For additional information on this incredible woman or anything else, feel free to stop by our Reference department - we've got some pretty incredible women down here too!