Elizabeth Blackwell (February 3, 1821 – May 31, 1910) was an abolitionist, women's rights activist, and the first female doctor in the United States. She was the first woman to graduate from medical school (M.D.) and a pioneer in educating women in medicine.
Blackwell was born on February 3, 1821 in Bristol, England, the third of nine children born to a sugar refiner, named Samuel Blackwell, who could afford to give his numerous sons, and also daughters, an education. Mr.Samuel Blackwell believed that his daughters should get the same education as boys so he had his daughters tutored by the house servants. In 1832, the family immigrated to the United States, and set up a refinery in New York City. The Blackwell's were very religious Quakers. They believed that all men and women were equal in the eyes of God. Due to their Quaker beliefs, the Blackwell family was anti-slavery. An opportunity was presented to Mr. Blackwell that allowed him to open a refinery in Ohio, where slaves would'nt be needed to harvest the sugar. So, the family moved to Cincinnati. Three months after they moved her father got very sick and died. After the death of her father, she took up a career in teaching in Kentucky, to make money to pay for medical school. Desiring to apply herself to the practice of medicine, she took up residence in a physician's household, using her time there to study from the family's medical library. She became active in the anti-slavery movement (as did her brother Henry Brown Blackwell who married Lucy Stone, a suffragette). Another brother, Samuel C. Blackwell, married another important figure in women's rights, Antoinette Brown. In 1845 she went to North Carolina where she read medicine in the home of Dr. John Dickson. Afterwards she read with his brother Dr. Samuel Henry Dickson in Charleston, South Carolina.
She attended Geneva College in New York. She was accepted there - anecdotally, because the faculty put it to a student vote, and the students thought her application was a hoax - and braved the prejudice of some of the professors and students to complete her training. Blackwell is said to have replied that if the instructor was upset by the fact that Student No. 156 wore a bonnet, she would be pleased to remove her conspicuous headgear and take a seat at the rear of the classroom, but that she would not voluntarily absent herself from a lecture. However, most of the faculty and students were very polite to her. Elizabeth's male peers treated her as an older sister. On January 11, 1849, she became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States, graduating at the top of her class...
Banned from practice in most hospitals she was advised to go to Paris, France and train at La Maternitè, but while she was there her training was cut short when she caught a terrible eye infection,purulent opthalmia, from a baby she was treating. She had her eye removed and replaced with a glass eye. In 1857 Elizabeth along with her sister Emily and Dr.Marie Zakrzewska, founded their own infirmary, named the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, in 1857. During the Civil War, Elizabeth trained many women to be nurses and sent them to the Union Army. Many women were interested and recieved training at this time. After the war, Elizabeth 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. There, with Florence Nightingale, she opened the Women's Medical College. Blackwell taught at the newly created London School of Medicine for Women and accepted a chair in gynecology. She was also the first female physician and doctor in the UK Medical Register. She retired a year later, at the age of 86.
During her retirement, Elizabeth still maintained her interest in the Women's Rights Movement by writing lectures on the importance of education. She also published books about diseases and proper hygiene.
Elizabeth Blackwell had adopted a daughter (an Irish immigrant) in England, her name was Katherine Barry. Elizabeth had called her Kitty. She was eight years old when she was first adopted and stayed with Elizabeth for the rest of her life. Her female education guide, was published in Spain as was her autobiography. Upon her death on May 31, 1910, she was buried in a remote part of Scotland.
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