The Doctor and OD Quarterly
Published by Od Peacock Sultan Company
Pharmaceutical 4500 Parkview Place
Vol. XLIX October 1959 No. 3
Index page 24
Every step of progress must have a beginning. Women in Medicine in America had their beginning in Elizabeth BLACKWELL, the first woman to receive her M.D.
Imagine the courage necessary for a woman to storm the doors of medical schools for men in 1847, and to hear “No”, “No”, “No”, but to go on and on until she finally was admitted. Imagine the tact and care executed by this pioneer in order to win over medical schools, that women might forever have impasse removed from the field of science so suited to her and in which she has done so much for humanity.
Elizabeth BLACKWELL came to this country with her family in 1832 from Bristol, England. Her father was a sugar refiner, but before he could realize a fortune from this new land of promised, he died in Cincinnati in 1838.
It remained the task of his wife and three older daughters to educate the younger children. They opened a boarding school for young ladies, but Elizabeth became restless with its slow progress and small income, and accepted an offer to take charge of a small school, which was being organized in Henderson, Kentucky.
It was on her return to Cincinnati that Elizabeth became deeply interested in the sick. A very dear fried was suffering with a pelvic disorder. She said, “Elizabeth, you are a student. Have you ever thought of studying medicine? If I could have been treated by a woman doctor my worst ordeals would have been spared me.”
That night the words of her friend were constantly in Elizabeth's mind, and gradually the idea took definite shape in plans, and when she was offered a position to teach music in a school in Asheville, North Carolina, she accepted gladly for the Reverend John DICKSON, who headed the school was a physician.
She studied or “read” medicine with him, and was even allowed to see a patient now and then on her own.
In 1846, when this little school disbanded, she went to Charleston, South Carolina where she taught in a fashionable boarding school and pursued her medical studies with Dr. Samuel H. DICKSON, who was teaching “Theory and Practice of Medicine” in the Charleston Medical School.
In 1847 she began literally to knock on the doors of medical schools, timidly begging admission. Although eleven of these doors refused to open for her, she was undaunted, and finally, by the vote of the students, this attractive woman was received and matriculated at the medical school of what is now Hobard College, Geneva, New York, where she graduated in 1848.
During these two years Miss BLACKWELL conducted herself with poise and dignity, winning the admiration of students and professors alike. But the women of the town shunned her. As she went from school directly to her room to study, the women crossed the street to avoid her, gathering in little groups to whisper and stare at this strange woman who must be “unbalanced or immoral.” Even a doctor's wife refused to speak to her.
But Elizabeth was pioneering so that all women after, who chose might take up the torch. She graduated with honors, as the ladies of the town turned out to see a woman receive a medical diploma. We wonder how many of them were a bit envious as the President, Dr. HALE, presented her with her diploma and pronounced her the leader of the class, “who with her ladylike and dignified deportment had proved that the strongest intellect and nerve and the most untiring perseverance were compatible with the softest attributes of feminine delicacy and grace.”
Elizabeth replied, “Sire, I thank you; by the help of the Most High it shall be the effort of my life to shed honor upon your diploma.”
Dr. BLACKWELL was true to her word. She soon went to Europe to continue her studies in England and France. Her work of the pioneer continued for many years in American and England. In New York she established the New York Infirmary and College for Women and Children, in London she assisted Elizabeth GARRET and Sophia BLAKE to found the London School of Medicine for Women.
Among her friends were Lady BYRON, Florence NIGHTINGALE, John Stuart MILL, George ELIOT, Herbert SPENCER, ROSETTI and KINGSLEY. She influenced legislation in favor of higher education for women, assisted in organizing nursing for the Northern Armies of the Civil War.
In the 1870s Elizabeth BLACKWELL made her home in England where she practiced, lectured and wrote until her death in 1910.
History of Henderson County, Kentucky 1888 – 1978
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS