Even before the Catholic Church began creating its health care legacy in the US, it was a woman who established the first ever women run hospital in the country. Hailing from a simple background, Elizabeth Blackwell M.D., founded a hospital along with her sibling Emily Blackwell, M.D. Here is the most impressive story of this incredible lady whose journey was like climbing a steep and rugged peak barefoot.
Elizabeth Blackwell’s background
Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England in 1821. In a simple family and her parents were Hannah Lane and Samuel Blackwell. On economic grounds and on the fact that her father wanted to take part in abolishing slavery, they migrated to America when she was just 11 years old. After her father died in 1838, she and her sister campaigned for women’s rights and thoroughly supported anti-slavery movement. During those times, she was made to believe that a degree in medicine was an impossible dream for women, such opportunity would never be available to women, and would cost a fortune which they would never be able to afford.
The first woman to earn a medical degree
When Elizabeth Blackwell received her medical degree in 1849, she was the first woman to do so in the field of medicine. When she hunted for colleges seeking an admission, every medical school she approached turned down her application. Finally, she got the acceptance letter from a small Geneva College of New York running in a rural setting.
A practical joke turned a wonder
How she earned her degree is an inspiring story. Some accounts say that Elizabeth Blackwell’s enrolment for the medical program was made as a practical joke of those times. While she was pursuing the course, she was excluded from the labs and segregated in the lectures. However, she never lost her heart. She persevered inspiring herself all through, and her hard efforts did pay her when she made a thumping success by graduating first in her class.
Her sister’s journey to earning a medical degree was not smooth either
Her sister Emily too was passionate about getting a medical degree. Her ambition was met with severe resistance in an establishment dominated by males. In Chicago, she was first enrolled at Rush Medical College. Before a year could pass, the firm pressure from the state Medical Society saw her being sent out of the college. After seeing some doors slamming in front of her denying entry into a medical college, she was accepted by Western Reserve University’s medical school in Cleveland. Emily also urged another woman Marie Zakrzewska from Berlin to attend the college at Cleveland.
A woman could never hope to become a doctor
Each of the three women found their journey into the world of medicine a mammoth struggle. Despite earning their degrees in medicine, they could never hope to make an entry into any of the hospitals of those days both in the U.S. and in other countries since all the hospitals were male-dominated and would show little interest to permit a woman to join them. During those days, the world saw the role of female doctors only as an abortionist. Blackwell sisters journeyed through Britain and Scotland and nowhere were they accepted.
They created their own success story
The two sisters along with Zakrzewska decided that they must now make their own story and so raised funds to start their small hospital on May 12, 1857, in the name The New York Infirmary for Women and Children. The three women stayed in the hospital as resident physicians. Two years later Zakrzewska would start her hospital which became the nation’s second women-run hospital and was named Boston’s New England Hospital for Women and Children. Following that, Elizabeth went to England to practice medicine. For the rest of her career over forty years, Emily stayed with the New York Infirmary managing the hospital on her own in every regard. Eventually, what started in a small room turned as a 16 room hospital by 1874 serving more than 7,000 patients in a year.
Elizabeth Blackwell’s startling achievements
- America ’s first woman to receive an M.D. degree when she passed out from New York’s Geneva Medical College in 1849.
- She helped a lot of women to settle with their careers. Especially she supported the medical education of women.
- The New York Infirmary she founded in 1857 helped women expand their practical skills by practicing as most women of those days were denied internships elsewhere.
- She published a lot of books on the topic of women in medicine the top highlights being Medicine as a Profession For Women published in 1860 and Address on the Medical Education of Women published in 1864.
Snippet from her life: Medicine was never a course Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell liked to join
In her book named Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women which was published in 1895, Dr. Blackwell wrote, “I hated everything connected with the body, and could not bear the sight of a medical book… My favorite studies were history and metaphysics, and the very thought of dwelling on the physical structure of the body and its various ailments filled me with disgust.”
She opted to teach instead which was considered a more suitable profession for women during those times than many other vocations. Once, one of her dying friends suggested to her that her life could have been saved if her physician was a woman. This touching incident drove her passions to become a physician. However, this time her choice made a real difference and created the base for everything she could achieve in future and contribute to the field of medicine as the first woman doctor in the U.S.