Elizabeth Blackwell was a British-born physician, notable as the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, as well as the first woman on the UK Medical Register.
Google celebrates Elizabeth Blackwell’s 197th Birthday with doodle on Feb 3, 2018.
She was the first woman to graduate from medical school, a pioneer in promoting the education of women in medicine in the United States, and a social and moral reformer in both the United States and in the United Kingdom.
Her sister Emily was the third woman in the US to get a medical degree.
Elizabeth was born on 3 February 1821 in a house on Dicksons Street in Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, to Samuel Blackwell, a sugar refiner, and his wife Hannah (Lane) Blackwell.
In October 1847, Blackwell was accepted as a medical student by Hobart College, then called Geneva Medical College, located in upstate New York.
When Blackwell arrived at the college, she was rather nervous. Nothing was familiar – the surroundings, the students and the faculty. She did not even know where to get her books.
On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to achieve a medical degree in the United States. The local press reported her graduation favourably, and when the dean, Dr. Charles Lee, conferred her degree, he stood up and bowed to her.
In April, 1849, Blackwell made the decision to continue her studies in Europe. She visited a few hospitals in Britain and then headed to Paris. Just like in America, she was rejected from many hospitals due to her gender.
On 4 November 1849, when Blackwell was treating an infant with ophthalmia neonatorum, she spurted some contaminated solution into her own eye accidentally, and contracted the infection. She lost sight in her left eye, causing her to have her eye surgically extracted and thus lost all hope of becoming a surgeon.
Blackwell, in her later years, was still relatively active. In 1895, she published her autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women. It was not very successful, selling fewer than 500 volumes.
In 1907, while holidaying in Kilmun, Scotland, Blackwell fell down a flight of stairs, and was left almost completely mentally and physically disabled. On 31 May 1910, she died at her home in Hastings, Sussex, after suffering a stroke that paralyzed half her body.
Her ashes were buried in the graveyard of St Munn’s Parish Church, Kilmun, and obituaries honouring her appeared in publications such as The Lancet and The British Medical Journal.
The British artist Edith Holden, whose Unitarian family were Blackwell’s relatives, was given the middle name “Blackwell” in her honor.
Elizabeth Blackwell Quotes