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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.

Elizabeth Blackwell1 from biggerhouse film on Vimeo.

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.

“Elizabeth remains a truly inspirational figure over 100 years after her death. From extolling the benefits of healthy lifestyles and preventative medicine, to campaigning for access to medical education, her ideas remain as relevant to improving public health today as they were all those years ago.
“Throughout her career, Elizabeth championed women in medicine, and was a leading social and moral reformer on both sides of the Atlantic: the work in these areas continues to this day.”
Elizabeth Blackwell Bristol Magazine feature image

Further information

Read more about Elizabeth Blackwell's life

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