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Elizabeth Blackwell - First Female Doctor in USA: 1821 – 1910

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first female doctor in the United States. She was the first openly identified woman to graduate from medical school (M.D.), a pioneer in educating women in medicine, and was prominent in the emerging women's rights movement.

She was born in England to Quaker parents. Her father could afford to give his numerous sons an education and also believed that his daughters should get the same education as boys, so had them tutored by the house servants. When Mr.Blackwell lost his business the family emigrated to the USA.

In 1847 she began searching for a medical school that would admit her for a full course of study. She was rejected by all the leading schools to which she applied, and almost all the other schools as well. When her application arrived at Geneva Medical College at Geneva, New York, the administration asked the students to decide whether to admit her or not. The students, reportedly believing it to be only a practical joke, endorsed her admission. During her studies she met with considerable hostility but she graduated first in her class in 1849.

Banned from practice in most hospitals she was advised to go to Paris, France and train at La Maternité, but while she was there her training was cut short when she caught a serious eye infection, purulent ophthalmia, from a baby she was treating. She had her eye removed and replaced with a glass eye.

In 1850, Elizabeth moved to England where she worked under Dr. James Paget at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London. It was here that she met and became friends with Florence Nightingale and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Both these women were inspired by Elizabeth's success and became pioneers in women's medicine in Britain. Elizabeth returned to the United States in 1851 and attempted to find work in New York. Refused posts in the city's hospitals and dispensaries, she was forced to work privately. Her experiences of gender discrimination encouraged her to write the book The Laws of Life (1852).

In 1857 Blackwell along with her sister Emily and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, founded their own infirmary, named the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. During the American Civil War, Blackwell trained many women to be nurses and sent them to the Union Army. Many women were interested and received training at this time. After the war, Blackwell had time, in 1868, to establish a Women's Medical College at the Infirmary to train women, physicians, and doctors. In 1869 she left her sister Emily in charge of the College and returned to England.

In 1875, Elizabeth Blackwell was appointed professor of gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Children, founded by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. She remained there until 1907 when she retired after a serious fall downstairs. She died in Sussex in 1910.



Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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