Elizabeth Blackwell was an Anglo-American physician who was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, as well as the first woman on the UK Medical Register. 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 Britain. She became a leading public health activist during her lifetime. Her sister Emily was the third woman in the US to get a medical degree.
Elizabeth was born in England but for financial reasons and because her father wanted to help abolish slavery, the family moved to America when she was 11 years old. Her father died soon after settling in Cincinnati, in 1838, from biliary fever. Elizabeth and her sisters opened a private school to aid their financial needs. Also she taught in other schools.
Blackwell later decided to pursue a career in medicine. Before entering the college, She studied medicine privately with sympathetic physicians. After being rejected from all leading medical schools she was accepted to the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York in 1847. Despite the reluctance of most students and faculty Elizabeth Blackwell graduated first in her class. On January 23, 1849, she received her degree, becoming the first woman to graduate from medical school, the first woman doctor of medicine in the modern era.
Blackwell while receiving training at the midwives course at La Maternite in Paris, contracted “purulent opthalmia” from a young patient which left her blind in one eye, and she abandoned her plan to become a surgeon.
In 1851 Elizabeth Blackwell returned to New York, where hospitals and dispensaries uniformly refused her association. In 1853, with the help of friends, she opened her own dispensary in a single rented room, which was incorporated in 1854 and moved to a small house she bought on 15th Street. In 1856 together with Her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell, and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children at 64 Bleecker Street. This institution and its medical college for women (opened 1867) provided training and experience for women doctors and medical care for the poor. In 1953, she became the first woman listed on the British Medical Register while she had been lecturing there.
During the American Civil War in 1861, the Blackwell sisters helped to organize the Women’s Central Association of Relief, selecting and training nurses for service in the war. This venture helped to inspire the creation of the U S Sanitary Commission.
In 1868, she opened the Women’s Medical College at the infirmary with high standards, which continued in operation for 31 years; she took the chair of hygiene herself. In 1869, She moved permanently to England. She helped to organize the National Health Society and she founded the London School of Medicine for Women.
She wrote a series of lectures, published in 1852 as The Laws of Life, with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls and many other prominent writings.
She didn’t get married, despite being single she adopted a child.
In 1875, Elizabeth Blackwell was appointed professor of gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Children, founded by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. She retired in 1907 after a serious fall downstairs. She died in Sussex in 1910.