Pioneering physician Elizabeth Blackwell — the first woman to receive a medical degree in the US and to register as a physician in the UK — was born in 1921. Originally from England, Blackwell moved with her family to America in 1832. While Blackwell was teaching at a primary school, she realized that there were not many career opportunities for women other than that of a teacher, which typically ended in marriage. Upon deciding to become a doctor, Blackwell was rejected by numerous medical schools until she was accepted at Geneva Medical College in upstate New York.
After graduating in January 1849, Blackwell enrolled at La Maternité, the leading school for midwives in Paris. Her hopes of eventually becoming a surgeon ended when she contracted an eye disease and lost an eye, but even this did not stop her ambitions in the medical world. She was accepted to train at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London in 1850. One year later, she returned to New York and set up the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children, which later became the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and the Women’s Medical School.
Due to the fact that women trained in her Infirmary were not able to attend male medical colleges, she decided to establish her own women’s medical college — the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary — in 1868. Blackwell also became the first woman ever to be recognized as a qualified doctor in Britain. She built a successful London practice and was among the founders of the National Health Society, which promoted sanitary and hygiene instruction, under the slogan ‘Prevention is better than cure’.
Elizabeth Blackwell died at the age of 89 in 1910 at her home in Hastings, England. At her funeral service there were several wreaths, including a large one of laurel leaves, bearing the names of a number of fellow female practitioners and an inscription reading: “A pioneer – from some of those who are trying to follow in her footsteps.”
Thanks to the National Women’s History Museum for sharing this image!