Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was a British physician
In 1849, Blackwell became the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States. Second female physician on the Medical Register of the General Medical Council (after Elizabeth Garrett Anderson)
Co-founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and campaigned for women’s rights and strong supporter of the anti-slavery movement
My whole life is devoted unreservedly to the service of my sex. The study and practice of medicine is in my thought but one means to a great end…the true ennoblement of woman.”Blackwell 1869
- Born 3 February 1821 Bristol, England. Her father Samuel Blackwell wanted to help abolish slavery and moved the family to America in 1833 when Elizabeth was 11 years old.
- 1847 – Entered medical school after a year of study with two physician friends and applying to every medical school in New York and Philadelphia plus an additional twelve schools
- 1849 – MD Geneva Medical College, New York (now Hobart and William Smith Colleges)
- 1849 – After graduating Blackwell traveled to Paris working at La maternité mainly as a student of midwifery. Developed an eye infection (purulent ophthalmia) whilst treating an infant, causing her to lose the sight in her left eye and a few months later to have the eye surgical removed ending her plans for surgical practice.
- 1850 – St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London – welcomed by the faculty, except the Professor of Midwifery, who informed Blackwell that “his neglecting to give me aid, was owning to no disrespect to me as a lady, but to his condemnation of my object!“
- 1851 – Returned to New York to open a practice. However, few patients attended. Blackwell described it as “a blank wall of social and professional antagonism” and turned to the promotion of hygiene and preventive medicine among lay persons and professionals; and the promotion of medical education and opportunities for women physicians.
- 1854 – Emily Blackwell (sister) became the third woman to obtain a medical degree in the United States, from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University)
- 1857 – Co-founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children (later the New York University Downtown Hospital) with her sister Emily and Marie Zakrzewska.
- 1867 – Co-founded the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. In 1868 enrolled fifteen students with a faculty of nine with Elizabeth, as Professor of Hygiene, and her younger sister Emily as Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women.
- 1869 – Left New York and returned to England.
- Died 31 May 1910 Hastings, Sussex
- National Women Physicians Day – February 3rd – This day marks the birthday of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849. Dr. Blackwell initiated the movement that helped women gain entry and equality in the field of medicine.
- Elizabeth Blackwell Medal – awarded annually since 1949 by the American Medical Women’s Association to a woman physician “who has made the most outstanding contributions to the cause of women in the field of medicine.“
Between the things girls aren’t supposed to know and the things children aren’t supposed to know, it is a wonder I know anything at all!”Elizabeth Blackwell
..the suggestion of studying medicine was first presented to me by a lady friend. This friend finally died of a painful disease, the delicate nature of which made the methods of treatment a constant suffering to her. She once said to me: “You are fond of study, have health and leisure; why not study medicine? If I could have been treated by a lady doctor, my worst sufferings would have been spared me.”Blackwell 1844 – On studying medicine
My mind is fully made up. I have not the slightest hesitation on the subject; the thorough study of medicine, I am quite resolved to go through with. The horrors and disgusts I have no doubt of vanquishing. I have overcome stronger distastes than any that now remain, and feel fully equal to the contest. As to the opinion of people, I don’t care one straw personally; though I take so much pains, as a matter of policy, to propitiate it, and shall always strive to do so; for I see continually how the highest good is eclipsed by the violent or disagreeable forms which contain it.Blackwell 1846 – On studying medicine
“If society will not admit of a woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled.”Blackwell 1869
1847: Geneva Medical College accepted Blackwell’s application. The faculty assumed that the all-male student body would never agree to a woman joining their ranks and therefore allowed the 150 male students to vote on her admission. They voted “yes,” and she gained admittance. There are various accounts as to why the students voted to allow her to enter, although it is likely that they thought that she would never succeed. [Stephen Smith MD 1892]
1849: Punch devoted a lyrical aside to mark the occasion…
Young ladies all, of every clime
Especially of Britain,
Who wholly occupy your time
In novels or in knittin’
Whose highest skill is but to play
Sing, dance, or French to clack well,
Reflect on the example, pray
Of excellent Miss Blackwell!
- Blackwell E. The laws of life: with special reference to the physical education of girls. New-York: Putnam 1852
- Blackwell E. Medicine as a profession for women. Trustees of the New York Infirmary for Women. 1860
- Blackwell E. Address on the Medical Education of Women. New York: Baptist & Taylor. 1864
- Blackwell E. Counsel to parents on the moral education of their children. London: Hirst Smyth and Son. 1878
- Blackwell E. The religion of health. Edinburgh: Menzies. 1878
- Blackwell E. The human element in sex: a consideration of facts in relation to the physical and mental organisation of men and women, addressed to students of medicine. London: McGowan. 1880
- Blackwell E. The influence of women in the profession of medicine. London: Bell. 1889
- Blackwell E. Pioneer work in opening the medical profession to women: autobiographical sketches. London; New York: Longmans, Green. 1895
- Blackwell E. Essays in medical sociology. Volume I. London: Ernest Bell. 1902
- Blackwell E. Essays in medical sociology. Volume II. London: Ernest Bell. 1902
- Obituary: Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D. Br Med J 1910;1:1523
- Biography: Dr Elizabeth Blackwell. Pioneer work for women 1915:vii-xv
- Biography: Dr Elizabeth Blackwell. Changing the Face of Medicine
- That girl there is a doctor in medicine. National Institutes of Health, Bethesda. 1999.
- Biography: Dr Elizabeth Blackwell. sciencemuseum.org.uk
- Anon. An MD in a Gown. Punch 1849;16:226 [PDF]
- Smith S. The Medical Co-education of the Sexes. Church Union, New York. 1892
- Wirtzfeld DA. The history of women in surgery. Can J Surg. 2009;52(4):317–320. [PMC2724816]
- Hurd-Mead KC. A history of women in medicine, from the earliest times to the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Haddam Press. 1938
- Wilson DC. Lone woman; the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor. Boston, Little, Brown. 1970
the person behind the name