Women’s History Month: Medical Pioneer Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

Born in 1821 in Bristol, England, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell immigrated to the United States and became the first woman in American to earn a medical degree.  Eventually, she even founded a medical college for women named the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, focused on educating young female students.

Dr. Blackwell grew up outside of Bristol, England, and in 1832 her family immigrated to the United States, settling in Ohio. When her father died in 1838 the family was left penniless. In order to support the family, her mother, two older sisters, and Dr. Blackwell began teaching. During this period, Dr. Blackwell had the opportunity to be mentored by two physicians.

Determined to pursue a career as a physician despite there being no other female physicians in the country, Dr. Blackwell began applying for admission to medical schools; she was rejected from every school she applied to. Finally, she received a letter of acceptance from Geneva College in New York from which she ultimately graduated first in her class in 1849.

After graduation, Dr. Blackwell continued her medical training in Paris and London and then returned to the U.S. in 1851. In 1857, she opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children with another female physician as well as her sister Emily, who by then had also earned a medical degree. During the Civil War, the facility also trained nurses for the Union army.

In 1868, Dr. Blackwell opened her own medical school in New York, and after leaving her sister in charge, she returned to London in 1869.  In 1875, she became a professor at the London School of Medicine for Women, and remained in London until her death in 1910.

Contributed by Adrian Clark, Diversity and Inclusion Officer

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