“Being a pioneer is not an easy task, but it is interesting! Even the worst moment in life cannot stop me from reaching the world’s treasure.” – Elizabeth Blackwell
The Life of Elizabeth Blackwell
In a beautiful city of Bristol, South West England, February 8, 1821, a healthy baby girl was born and named Elizabeth Blackwell by her loving parents Hannah Lane, her mother and Samuel Blackwell, her father. Elizabeth was the third daughter of nine siblings in the family. The family owned a successful sugar company. Her mother, Hannah was supportive, caring, and loving. Her father, Samuel was a social activist who strongly believed that all human beings are equal, especially women’s rights to have the same chance for education as men, temperance, or abstinence from alcoholic liquors, and abolitionism or the elimination of slavery. All the principles her father were fighting for remained in her young mind.
Elizabeth grew as a wonderful, intelligent, and an obedient girl. She spent her childhood in Bristol for about 10 years of her life that was full of curiosity. Elizabeth and her siblings all followed the education as intended. These are mathematics, history, Latin, and Greek; all these subjects were normally taught only for boys but Elizabeth with her other girl siblings performed well with all the education and did everything they please to do. Elizabeth grew to share her father’s reform principles.
In 1832, Elizabeth’s education was stopped when their sugar company burned down. For Elizabeth, it was the loneliest time of her life. The family decided to move to America to search for a fresh living and Elizabeth was only 11 years old when it happened. The family had tried to put up another sugar production as the same of what they had before in England. The family had a hard moment advertising sugar prepared by slaves because the ideas on equality extended to African – Americans as well. The moment had come when Elizabeth’s father died in 1838. The death of her father strokes her heart so deeply. Elizabeth was never discouraged instead pursued her dreams. At the age of 16, Elizabeth became a teacher to assist her family. Her mother worked as a principal in an elementary school for African – American children. She saved money as much as she could toward her dream of attending medical school.
One of Elizabeth’s inspirations on why she decided to pursue her career in medicine was after the death of a peer, dying and said she could have spared the suffering if her physician had been a woman. When she could afford tuition, she tried to enroll to different medical schools. She was rejected at twenty – nine times from different schools in medicine. The journey to her dream as a physician is quite difficult. She had an independent study in medicine before she was admitted in Geneva Medical College in New York in 1847 now Hobart College. Her admittance in the college created uproar and rumored that her admission had been meant as a something of a joke. She was never discouraged and remained strong and firm. Elizabeth studied rigidly and tolerated the criticisms and cruelness of her classmates and some of the individuals in town. She held firm despite the pain, eventually she earned the respect from her classmates.
Shunned by many of her classmates, ridiculed by some professors, and told her not to attend class discussions, Elizabeth completed her studies and received her degree in a ceremony on 23 of January 1849. She was a perfect example of a strong – welled woman of her time. The graduation was held in a church attended with local women who wanted to witness the history of all times. Her name was the last one called after the other graduates who received the degrees and Elizabeth said after the speech of the president in Latin, and gave her the diploma of the degree in medicine she replied to the president, “Sir, I thank you. By the aid of the Almighty, it is my honor to accept your diploma.” All the women in the spectators along with many of the men present during the ceremony all applauded and with standing ovation. Elizabeth Blackwell did fulfill her promise to finish her medical school. She was the first woman to become a medical doctor in America. Every single woman who attended the ceremony was inspired with her success.
Shortly after graduation, Elizabeth became a naturalized citizen in America. The thing she ever did after she received her degree in medicine was to travel in Europe to study further in medicine in the Maternity Hospital in Paris. While in Paris, she suffered an infection that lost her sight on her one eye on the left. Still she persisted to learn more then worked at St. Bartholomew Hospital in London. After two years she returned in America in 1851, Elizabeth opened a private practice in New York to help other woman become doctors. She also opened a small business where children and women could purchase medicine. She had few patients due to lack of finances in most family because men controlled the budget and her income was from her lectures on hygiene. After working in Paris and London, Elizabeth established a private practice in New York City. In 1853, she established the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children. In 1857, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children was established. These facilities serve the poor and served as her employment as well with the help of her sister and fellow doctor. Part of their education, the students of the Women’s Medical College in New York Infirmary had a knowledge regarding hygiene through Elizabeth. She believed that if the sanitary conditions were maintained then health would be better. She helped established the United States Sanitary Commission. Sophia Jex – Blake was one of the first students in a medical school for women in London.
Elizabeth became the first woman listed on the British Medical Register and a lecturer. The hospital immediately hired the second woman to earn an MD in America who was inspired by Elizabeth’s achievement, she was Marie Zakrewska, and third woman was Elizabeth’s sister Emily Blackwell. At present, the hospital is known as New York Downtown Hospital.
In the Civil War, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell founded the Woman's Central Association of Relief. Elizabeth trained nurses, coordinated volunteer efforts, and provided battlefront hospital and other services needed. By 1868, they opened the Woman's Medical College of Infirmary in New York, and Elizabeth went back to England, served as a lecturer, and co-founded the London School of Medicine for Women. Elizabeth kept on to be the best on women’s rights, especially in the movement for women’s right for suffrage in Europe and elsewhere.
Elizabeth herself never got married. In 1854, when Elizabeth was 33 years old and had already determined not to marry, despite being single she adopted a daughter, Katharine “Kitty” Barry, a 7 years old American Orphan. Her daughter Kitty became devoted to her, always living with her and always calling her “Doctor.” Kitty only changed her last name to Blackwell until after Elizabeth’s death.
Elizabeth inspired many women in her time. One of those was the young British feminist Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and became the second woman in the British Medical Register. The third woman in the British Medical Register in 1877 was Sophia Jex – Blake and other Swiss M.D.s was added. By 1870s, women were well established in the field of medicine in America and were ahead of Europe. There was an increased of M.D. between 1873 and 1878 about 11 women.
Elizabeth retired in 1877 and moved to Hastings. She died at her home on May 31, 1910. Her career path was Obstetrics and gynecology. She is remembered forever, in 1949 engraved on Blackwell Medal made, and awarded to a woman that had exceptional accomplishments in medicine school. The portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell was on the cover of an oil painting of J. S. Kozlowski of East Syracuse as a gift to Upstate Medical Center. Patricia J. Numann, M.D. of 1965 was the president of the said sorority, now professor of surgery at University. One of the important celebrations was the dedication ceremony led by Carlyle F. Jacobsen, president of the school announced the naming of the street campus after Elizabeth. The portrait was hang in the health Sciences Library, became quite famous appeared on a United States stamp and the cover of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The world recognized her success in the field of medicine. She inspired many women to pursue their dreams and ambitions despite some obstacles. Elizabeth Blackwell was an agent of change and always.