Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Happy Birthday to an Inspiration

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D. is a folk heroine of stature even though most of us are familiar with her contributions. Her milestones are many and they have, in one way or another touched us. For this reason, we take time this week to celebrate her February 3rd 1821 birthday.

Let’s start with her most prominent achievement: she the first woman to receive her medical degree in the United States. Her inspiration reportedly came when a close friend of hers was on her death bed and said that her worst suffering would have been spared if her doctor had been a woman

Drawn to the challenge, she convinced two physician friends to let her study medicine alongside of them for a year. After that she applied to all the medical schools in New York and Philadelphia. Her determination paid off in 1847 when she was accepted to Geneva Medical College in New York. The faculty assumed that the student-body would never accept a woman to join them, so they took a vote on her admission.

Two years later she became the first woman in America to earn her M.D. degree. She struggled to gain acceptance from other physicians for years after her graduation and was often turned down by dispensaries. In 1853 she finally opened her own dispensary in a single rented room. Her successes took off. In 1854 the dispensary moved to a small house, and in 1857 her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell, M.D. and Dr. Marie Zakzewska M.D. and she opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

 In 1859 Dr. Blackwell left for a year-long lecture tour of Great Britain where she became the first woman to have her name on the British medical register. She then returned to work at the Infirmary and sought out a new challenge: the Women’s Medical College at the infirmary. The institution provided trained and experience for women doctors and medical care for the poor. By 1899 it had graduated 364 women.

Dr. Blackwell moved to England in 1860 and helped to organize the National Health Society and founded the London School of Medicine for Women. This American folk heroine continued her successes, including publications until she passed in May, 1910.

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