Elizabeth Blackwell: First Female American Doctor

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Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was a time when it was expected that a boy would grow up to become a doctor while a girl would grow up to become a nurse. That stereotypical idea still exists in the present day, but because women are more likely to go to college than men, it is predicted that by 2017, there will be more female doctors than male doctors. The fact that there could be more female doctors shows how much women have come since the first female American doctor graduated from medical school less than 200 years ago. Her name was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell.

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England on February 3, 1821, but moved to the United States when she was eleven for financial reasons and because her father wanted to help abolish slavery. In America, the Blackwell family gave up sugar to protest the slave trade and the children were up believing that women deserved to be educated. Due to her father’s unexpected early death, Blackwell became a teacher and opened up a school with two of her sisters. Blackwell was repulsed by the idea of the body, but she changed her mind after a dying friend suggested that she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman.

Blackwell was able to convince two physician friends to let her read medicine with them for a year and she applied to over fifteen schools. In 1847, she was accepted by the Geneva Medical College in New York. The Geneva Medical faulty, assuming that the all-male student body would never agree to a woman joining their ranks, allowed the male students to vote on her admission. If one male student out of the 150 student body voted “no” then she would be turned down. As a joke, they all voted yes. Though many students and teachers disagreed with a woman becoming a doctor, Blackwell was accepted. In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell  become the first woman in America to earn her M.D. degree. She spent two years in Europe working at clinics but after contracting purulent ophthalmia, she lost sight in one eye and returned to New York.

In New York she had trouble finding a job because she was a woman so she opened her own dispensary in a single rented room. With the help of her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell, and friend, Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, she established the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857 for women who were rejected from internships elsewhere. Blackwell also helped create the U.S. Sanitary Commission because she realized that maintaining sanitary conditions was an important aspect of health. Due to her health, she was forced to retire in the late 1870’s but she continued to campaign for reform. She published several books on women in medicine and became involved in many different social reform organizations. Blackwell spent the later years traveling until May 31, 1910, when she died in Hastings, England after suffering from a stroke.

Elizabeth Blackwell became a doctor because she realized female patients would be comfortable around female doctors and because she wanted women to be considered equal in the medical field. Though females were just becoming accepted as nurses in the mid 1850’s, Blackwell pushed the barrier even further by becoming a doctor. Blackwell went on to open medical schools for women and became a mentor for many other female doctors. Though Blackwell led the way for women becoming doctors, the fact that male doctors make more then $12,000 a year than female doctors mean that equality in the medical field is not there yet.

Sources:

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell. biography

Female doctors set to outnumber male colleagues

Male Doctors make $12,000 more than Female Doctors per Year

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  1. Pingback: Elizabeth Cady Stanton | Dare to Read, Think, Speak and Write

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