Elizabeth Blackwell

Table of Content

Women are considered the weaker sex for the longest time. As a matter of fact, there are still certain areas or industries where women are still banned from doing work or are still discriminated. Centuries ago, women were almost excluded to do anything outside the house. In a world dominated by men, they thought that women were just designed to do household chores, bear children and raise them. They were not allowed to lead any organization, hold any powerful position and voice out their opinion in the society. Women were not even allowed to vote. Philosophers also argue about the rights of the women. Some say they are just for pleasure but other believed that they had to have equal rights.

            As centuries pass by, the presence of the women are slowly recognized. They started out as performers in plays—the past time of people before. Slowly, the women are learning to be stronger to fight for their right. The leadership of certain women such as Queen Elizabeth and Joan of Arc paved the way and inspired the many others to fight their way through the society.

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            It is undeniable that women nowadays are very powerful and independent. In every powerful industry, there is always one woman leading it. Gone are the days when women had to stay home and take care of their kids. The modern woman balances work and family at the same time. But how did the modern woman get there?

            The field of medicine is undeniably one of the most respected courses in the world. The doctors were such prestigious people in the world at that time. They were considered next to the gods and saints as they help prolong the life of the people. Doctors handle a crucial role in the society as they handle the people’s lives. Being a doctor takes more than the usual years to study and as expected only the men are allowed to study. Now there is this woman named Elizabeth Blackwell who dreamed of becoming the first female doctor. She wanted to become a doctor to serve her fellow women who wanted to consult with a female doctor especially with sensitive cases.

            Elizabeth Blackwell was born in the 19th century (February 3, 1821) in England. She was educated by a private tutor. The reason why her parents did not enroll her in a school is still unknown but historians say it was because of the discrimination of women in school. Back then, only men were allowed to study as women should remain domesticated. Samuel Blackwell, Elizabeth’s father moved the family to the United States in 1832. They moved to New York then Jersey and when business didn’t go well the Blackwell family moved to Cincinnati. Samuel Blackwell died in Cincinnati leaving any money with the family. Elizabeth Blackwell together with her mom and sisters set up a school to live. Elizabeth immediately got interest in the topic of medicine. She wanted to become the first female physician to address the services of women who would prefer to consult women in their health problems. Elizabeth’s family background on politics was radical. Her father was very active in England and when they came to the United States. The open-minded views of her family in the society are what pushed her to break barriers in society (Burby 20).

            Elizabeth’s road to becoming the first female physician was really tough. She became a teacher first in Henderson, Kentucky then to North and South Carolina where she read medicine privately. This great challenge led Elizabeth to say, “The idea of winning a doctor’s degree gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed immense attraction for me” (Ogilvie, et. al. 136). In 1847, she began searching for a medical school that would accept her. She was really a different woman in her time as she also wanted to put a barrier in matrimony. She didn’t believe that marriage was really a necessity for women and that they can live on their own without the support of a man. She stood by this principle until her last breath but needed a company so she adopted a child later on (Ogilvie, et. al. 136).

            As expected, Elizabeth was rejected by all the major schools in the country. The rest of the schools followed this decision as well. Then her application arrived at Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York. The administration heard about this woman trying to find her way in the medicine field so they decided to put the decision on the hands of the students. The students, who were all males, thought it was just a joke so they agreed. When they found out that Elizabeth was serious about it, they including the townspeople were horrified. She became an outcast in Geneva while a few were on her side. Initially, she was kept from class demonstration as it was considered inappropriate for women. Some students became friendly though after seeing her persistence and ability. Elizabeth Blackwell then became the first woman to graduate medicine in 1849. And she graduated with flying colors. Blackwell graduated valedictorian in her class (Bickel 81).

            Elizabeth then became the first woman doctor in the modern era. But Elizabeth’s degree did not give her the respect of the society. After pursuing further studies and traveling around the world, she came back to New York but no doctor would want her association. She was even refused by landlords for clinic spaces and had to buy a house of her own just so she can set up her practice. She began seeing children and women in her house. While practicing, she also wrote lectures based on the physical education of women. In 1857, Blackwell then opened a dispensary in the poor area of New York. She involved herself in charity work with newly graduated female doctors, Marie E. Zakrzewska and her sister Emily Blackwell. In 1868, she launched the Women’s Medical College together with Florence Nightingale. And in 1875, Blackwell was selected as a professor at the London School of Medicine for Children. She died in 1910 (Bell 36).

            Blackwell’s achievements in medicine definitely paved way for more women to take the arduous job. Blackwell encouraged women to take medicine and be not afraid to pursue their dreams. As time goes by, the abilities of women are recognized especially in medicine. More and more doctors are women.

            Centuries after Elizabeth Blackwell became the first modern woman physician, the role of women in the society has totally changed. Women are now recognized in almost all fields where men used to rule. The empowered woman is what we see in most women today. They have a great career, a great family—everything is balanced from their family to their social life. Gender discrimination rarely happens too. The world has accepted that whatever men can do women can handle too.

            Women have already marked their milestones in medicine. In 2006, the University of Florida Health Science Center featured the women physicians in a travelling exhibit. This is a review of the contributions of women in medicine. The theme of the exhibit was “Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians (Davis 2).” It primarily talks about the struggles of women wanted to practice medicine and struggled their way to medicine schooling and their specialty. After Blackwell became the first woman physician in America, woman physicians now are very much active in the field. In fact they are everywhere. Not only are they part of it, they are also leading in every branch of medicine. They are teachers, specialists, surgeons, family practitioners, government officials and researchers on the edge of new medical discoveries that will benefit the people (Davis 5).

            According t the medical director of the National Library of Medicine, women have given fresh perspectives to the medical industry. They have put the spotlight on topics that had previously been ignored, such as the social and economic costs of illnesses and the low numbers of women and minorities who enter medical school and practice (Davis 10).

            The thing about women is that they learned to fight for their rights and for those who are not given the chance to exercise it. Most of the women physicians do charity work and focus on the slums. They led the medical missions and brought information to the poor.

            Female physicians in the new era are getting blessings from the career paths that started out since the mid 19th century by a long line of American women. In the exhibition featured by the University of Florida, some early physicians were featured aside from Blackwell– Matilda Evans, the first black doctor to be licensed in South Carolina, and Florence Sabin, one of the first woman physicians who worked as a research scientist. Also featured are Antonia Novello, the first woman surgeon general of the United States, and Catherine DeAngelis, the first woman editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (Davis 8).

            It is such a great thing to know that what was known to be the weaker sex is now considered a very significant role player in the society. Gone are the days when every woman is discriminated and the women today are an epitome of an empowered human being because of the responsibilities that they have for the society.

Works Cited

Davis, Ned. “UF Health Science Center Libraries to host ‘Changing the Face of Medicine’

traveling exhibition.” University of Florida Health News. 2006. 24 February 2009


Bell, Jeffrey A. Industrialization and Imperialism, 1800-1914 a Biographical Dictionary: A

Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

Bickel, Janet. Women in Medicine: Getting in, Growing & Advancing. California: SAGE

Publishing, 2000.

Burby, Liza. Elizabeth Blackwell: The First Woman Doctor. Michigan: The Rosen Publishing

Group, 1997.

Oglivie, Marilyn Bailey, Harvey, Joy Dorothy. The Biographical Dictionary of Women in

Science: Pioneering Lives from Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century. Taylor and

Francis, 2000.

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Elizabeth Blackwell. (2016, Jun 23). Retrieved from


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