Pioneer Physician, Author. Elizabeth Blackwell epitomizes what the human spirit will endure while fighting unjust treatment, discrimination, ill will, abuse and ridicule. However, she achieved her goal, overcoming mid-century prejudice against women while instituting many reforms during her quest to practice the art of healing. She selected medicine as a career, a certainty in that day, that a lady physician was neither appropriate nor attainable. She was rejected 29 times by medical schools before being admitted to Geneva Medical College, Geneva, New York, (now Hobart and William Smith College) then accepted only when her application was approved by a sham vote from the student body. Two years later, Elizabeth was a graduate, tops in her class. She was born near Bristol England, the third daughter in a family of nine, to Samuel and Hannah Blackwell. Her father, an industrialist, was an activist in woman's rights, temperance causes and slavery abolition. He home schooled his entire family with a series of hired private tutors. The result was a mutual sharing of reform principles...daughters Elizabeth and Emily became pioneering physicians, sons Samuel married Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first ordained woman minister of a recognized denomination in America and Henry married Lucy Stone the prominent women's rights activist. At age eleven, her father's business collapsed and the family left England to start over in America. They endured a nomadic life as her father could not regain his former wealth and upon his death left the family penniless. By the time Elizabeth reached the age of twenty five, she had lived in New York, New Jersey, Cincinnati, Kentucky, North and South Carolina and Philadelphia. She taught school to support herself while studying medicine privately with various open minded doctors. After graduation from Geneva Medical College, she was unable to overcome the prejudice against her, unable to establish herself in New York City either in private practice or as a hospital affiliated physician. She literally had to open her own facility to be able to practice medicine. In 1857, she founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children (now Beekman Downtown Hospital.) Upon the onset of the Civil War, she taught a training course to prospective nurses for wartime hospital work while organizing over a thousand local women in a volunteer organization called the "Women's Central Association of Relief," who collected and distributed medical supplies. In the postwar, she added a Women's Medical College at the Infirmary, the year was 1868, to train women physicians. The following year, Dr. Blackwell placed her sister Emily in charge and returned to England, spending the most productive years of her life, writing, lecturing while championing women's rights. She opened the Women's Medical College along with famous nurse Florence Nightingale. Dr. Blackwell retired at age 86. A year later, she fell suffering a hip injury. Her health steadily declined and a stroke took her life at age 89 at her home, Rock House, in Hastings. She specified burial in Kilmun, Scotland, a place she particularly enjoyed visiting in later life. Legacy...She authored many books, "The Moral Education of the Young," followed by her autobiography, "Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women." A steady stream of medical oriented books and pamphlets followed. She became the first woman to be entered in the British Medical Register. Such listing is tantamount to being licensed to practice medicine in the UK. She managed to establish a prosperous private practice in England which led to the founding of the British National Health Society. Her last major accomplishment was the appointment as Chair of Gynecology at the London School of Medicine, a post she held until retirement. In 1974, the Postal Service issued an eighteen cent stamp in honor of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. In 1949 the Blackwell award medal was established. It is given to women that have outstanding achievements in the practice of medicine In 1973, she was one of the first 20 women selected for inclusion in the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, the past vocal point of America's early women rights activity. In a bit of trivia...She was pursued by suitors with proposals of marriage but always declined realizing woman in that age were expected to be subservient to their husbands and would hinder her career. At age 33, she adopted Katharine (Kitty) Barry, a 7 year-old American orphan who was her constant companion until her death.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield