Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Elizabeth Blackwell: First U.S. Female Physician and Education Reformist by Katheryn Rivas

Elizabeth Blackwell: First U.S. Female Physician, Education Reformist
Katheryn Rivas 

She might not be the very first American woman to practice medicine in the States—after all, mothers and daughters used holistic methods in earlier centuries to help cure the wounded and female abortionists and midwives were often considered modern-day "physicians"— but she was definitely the first woman to practice medicine with a medical license.

Women who can proudly call themselves doctors as well as those currently enrolled in U.S. medical schools sprinkled across the nation must give thanks to Elizabeth Blackwell, the first women to ever graduate from a medical school in the U.S. She was rejected by six colleges because of her gender in 1847 before she was finally accepted to Geneva Medical College located in upstate New York.

Although Blackwell made an impact in America, she was actually born in Bristol, England in 1821. Her parents migrated to the states and moved the family to New York in 1832, and then to Cincinnati a few years later. There, Blackwell developed her yearning for financial and intellectual independence.

Initially she and her two sisters launched a school for women called, The Cincinnati English and French Academy for Young Ladies. It helped paid the bills, but due to a poor curriculum the school failed in 1842. Blackwell's interest in education reform did not end there however. She continued to tutor privately until she began to grow an interest in medicine.

Her interest in medicine really came about because friend. A terminally ill female friend of Blackwell stated that her ordeal would have been much more soothing and comfortable if she had been treated by a female doctor, especially because women are natural nurtures. Thus began Blackwell's professional pursuits to become a doctor. However the task was easier said than done.

Like stated before, she was rejected by every school until Geneva got a hold of her application—but even then her acceptance was granted due to a fluke. It's documented that the Dean of Admissions was so stumped of what to do about Blackwell's application that he sent her application to be reviewed by 150 male medical students. If one student objected, her application would be terminated. However, the students thought the application was a joke, and all unanimously voted for her Blackwell's admission.

Blackwell officially earned her medical degree in 1849.

Shortly after she decided to continue her education in Europe and worked under renowned physicians. She still had to overcome many obstacles due to her gender, but her hard work and persistence eventually paid off. Establishing herself in a male-dominated industry, Blackwell finally made the move back to New York in 1852 to set up her own practice.

After a successful career, she co-opened an all-women medical school in London in 1874.

Blackwell finally retired in 1877. She never married.

Kathryn Rivas is an education writer and blogger for, a site that focuses on higher education. History is just one of the many topics Kathryn likes to cover. She welcomes your feedback.

From History and Women

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