On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to acquire a medical degree in the United States. She was a pioneer in educating women in medicine.
Blackwell’s family had moved from England to the United States of America. Her family was religious as well as radical and her father had been involved in various social reform activities including abolitionism. Even as a youngster, Blackwell showed an interest in the study of medicine. She particularly liked the idea of becoming a woman physician who would meet the requirements of women who would feel more at ease to confide their health problems openly to another woman. Her family’s radical outlook was another great influence on her decision. Also she felt that a career in medicine would help her avoid marriage.
Even while working as a teacher at a local school, Blackwell began studying medicine privately. Soon winning a medical a degree became the foremost priority in her life and in 1847, she began looking for a medical school that would admit her for a full course period.
Blackwell had little idea about the hurdles she would face. All the colleges to which she applied rejected her. At last when her application arrived at the Geneva Medical College in New York, the college authorities left the decision on whether to admit her or not to its students. As her luck would have it most of the students supported her admission believing that it was only a joke. However, when they discovered that she was serious about wanting to study medicine they were shocked.
At college she was initially treated as an outcast. She was kept out of classroom demonstrations as they were considered inappropriate for women to witness. But soon her ability and persistence won her the respect and friendship of her fellow male students.
Elizabeth graduated first in her class on January 23, 1849, becoming the first woman to graduate from a medical school. She became the first woman doctor of medicine in the modern era.
In 1853 Blackwell opened a dispensary in the slums of New York which later became the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She went on a year-long lecture tour of the Great Britain and became the first woman to have her name on the British Medical Journal. She also founded the London School of Medicine for Women. Her lectures and personal example have inspired several women to take up medicine as a profession.