Elizabeth Blackwell was born to Hannah Lane and Samuel Blackwell in England on February 3, 1821. Since her father, a sugar refiner and quaker, wanted to participate in anti-slavery movement, the Blackwell family moved to the United States in 1931. Elizabeth was 17 years old when her father died in 1838.
Initially she had no interest in the medical field and found “everything connected to the body” disgusting. So she first pursued a teaching career, which she thought was the most appropriate for women in that era. Though she never thought that she would ever read a medical book, young Blackwell was strongly inspired when her dying friend told her that she would have felt more relieved from her sufferings if she had a female doctor.
In the era when only male physicians were dominant, an academic pathway of a female student majored in medicine wasn’t smooth. Having no clue on how to get started, she reached out to many physicians, but she didn’t get any support and encouragement to pursue a medical career. She was told that it was an impossible challenge since medical school would cost a lot and was not accessible to women. But she decided to challenge that tradition.
Blackwell approached her physician friends to start studying medicine. She applied to many medical schools, and she gained admittance to New York Geneva College when the male students had voted “yes” as a joke. While in medical college, she also had to suffer from discrimination in lectures and labs. While working as a physician, she faced difficulties adapting to the hospital environment.
From her graduation in 1849, she became the first female to earn a MD degree from U.S. medical school. In the years after, she worked hard to create a U.S society where female physicians are treated equally as the males. In 1851, she opened a small clinic for women of poverty. In 1857, she opened the New York infirmary for women and children. In 1868,
she founded a medical college in New York City for women physicians. We can see that all her hard work had paid off by looking today’s U.S. society.
Blackwell died in May 31, 1910, but she remains to be a role model for future female generations.