Celebrating Elizabeth Blackwell, first female doctor in America
29 January 2019
In January 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to be awarded a medical degree in the United States. Her vision to achieve good health for all epitomises what the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute is striving to achieve today. This January we are celebrating our namesake's pioneering spirit.
Watch a clip from our recent interview with local historian, Mary Wright, who has dedicated her life to researching Elizabeth Blackwell.
Born in Bristol in 1821, Elizabeth and her family emigrated to America when she was 11 years old. Unfortunately her father, Samuel, died in 1838 leaving his wife and nine children in financial difficulties. After his death, Elizabeth and her sisters began teaching and set up a school to provide the family with financial stability. However, when a family friend became terminally ill and claimed she would have received more considerate treatment from a female doctor, Elizabeth became determined to train as a physician.
She applied to numerous medical colleges and was rejected by all but one, Geneva Medical College in New York. The faculty, assuming that the all-male student body would never agree to a woman joining their ranks, allowed them to vote on her admission. As a joke, they voted “yes," and she gained admittance in 1847. Two years later, after facing much resentment and prejudice, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive an M.D. degree from an American medical school.
Elizabeth Blackwell is such an inspirational figure; an unsung heroine that we think should be better recognised. We have been working with Bristol Magazine this January on a feature celebrating her life. Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Manager, Nina Couzin told Bristol Magazine: "Elizabeth is a wonderful role model for the new generation of health researchers and exemplifies the spirit of innovation that’s at the heart of the Institute’s work.