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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Dr Elizabeth Blackwell

In October 1847, Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) became the first woman to be accepted as a medical student. When Elizabeth Blackwell applied to Hobart College, then called Geneva Medical College, located in upstate New York,  the dean decided to hold a vote in the class she was applying to. If just one of the 150 male students objected, she would be rejected. All the 150 young men voted to accept her.

On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to qualify as a doctor of medicine in America when she was awarded her M.D. by the Geneva Medical College of Geneva, New York. 

After graduating, Dr. Blackwell traveled to Paris to undertake advanced studies. However, she was rejected from many hospitals due to her gender and she was unable to pursue her medical exams. The only option was to enter a large maternity hospital as a student midwife, where she fell sick resulting in the loss of sight in one eye.

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell by Joseph Stanley Kozlowski, 1905. Syracuse University Medical School collection

After convalescence, she went to London, where she was permitted to continue her studies. On her return to New York City in 1853, Dr. Blackwell was not permitted to practice in any of the hospitals she applied to, so she started the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, aided by her sister Emily who had also passed her medical exams. They trained Union Army nurses during the Civil War then together they founded a medical college for women in her hospital.

The next year Dr. Blackwell moved to England where she spent the remainder of her life teaching and working to increase medical opportunities there for women. Back in 1859 she had placed her name on the new British Medical Register, thus becoming Europe’s first modern female doctor.

Dr. Blackwell was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp in 1974 (see below), designed by Joseph Stanley Kozlowski. 

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