Woman Pioneer — Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell


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This month, February 3rd to be exact, marks the anniversary of the first woman to graduate from medical school.  Her name was Elizabeth Blackwell, and she was born in Bristol, England in 1821.  Dr. Blackwell wrote in her book Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women (1895) that she was initially repelled by the thought of a medical career.  She first went into teaching, a more suitable choice for women.  She turned to medicine after a close friend who was dying suggested she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman.

She had no idea how to become a doctor, so she asked several physicians friendly to her family. They told her it was impossible; it was too expensive, and besides the profession was closed to women.  But the challenge attracted her.  She convinced two physician friends to let her read medicine with them, and applied to medical schools throughout the northeast states. She was finally accepted by Geneva Medical College in western New York state in 1847.  The faculty thought the all-male student body would never agree to a woman, so they allowed them to vote on her admission.  As a joke, the students voted “yes,” and she became a enrolled there despite the misgivings of most everyone involved.

Two years later, in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive an M.D. degree from an American medical school.

Her complete story can be found at Changing the Face of Medicine, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_35.html

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