Elizabeth Blackwell (February 3, 1821 – May 31, 1910) was the first female doctor in the United States. She was the first woman to graduate from medical school (M.D.) and one of the first to teach other women to become doctors.
Elizabeth was born in England one of nine children. Her father was a wealthy man and believed that his daughters should have the same education as his sons.
In 1832, the family immigrated to the United States, and set up living. After a short time in the United States, Elizabeth’s father died and she went to Kentucky to teach to make money for medical school. To help start, she took up residence in a physician’s household, using her time there to study from the family’s medical library.
In 1845 she went to North Carolina where she read medicine in the home of Dr. John Dickson. Afterward, she read with his brother Dr. Samuel Henry Dickson in Charleston, South Carolina.
She attended Geneva College in New York. She was accepted there almost as a joke – the male student body thought her application a hoax and voted on it. She braved the prejudice of some of the professors and students to complete her training. Blackwell overcame taunts and prejudice from the faculty as well as from her fellow students while at medical school. Blackwell is said to have replied that if the instructor was upset by the fact that Student No. 156 wore a bonnet, she would be pleased to remove her conspicuous headgear and take a seat at the rear of the classroom, but that she would not voluntarily absent herself from a lecture.
On January 11, 1849, she became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States, graduating at the top of her class…so there, silly Boys!
Banned from practice in most hospitals she decided to go to Paris, France, but while she was there her training was cut short when she caught a terrible eye infection from a baby she was treating. She had her eye removed and replaced with a glass eye. In 1857 Elizabeth founded her own infirmary, named the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, in 1857. She passed along her training to other women, who then became nurses, and in 1868 she founded a Womens’ Medical College at the Infirmary to train women, physicians, and doctors. American hospitals refused to hire her, so she opened a clinic in New York City where she was joined by her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell and Dr. Maria Zakrzewska.
In 1869 she left her sister Emily in charge of the College and returned to England. There, with Florence Nightingale, she opened the Womens’ Medical College. Blackwell taught at the newly created London School of Medicine for Women and became the first female physician and doctor in the UK Medical Register. She retired at the age of 86.
Elizabeth Blackwell had adopted a daughter (an Irish immigrant) in England, her name was Katherine Barry. Elizabeth had called her Kitty. She was eight years old when she was first adopted and stayed with Elizabeth for the rest of her life.
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