Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to attend medical school in the U.S. Throughout her life, she endured persecution for being a woman doctor.
- Elizabeth was born in 1821 in Bristol, England. She was the third child of nine children. Four unmarried aunts also lived in their home. Elizabeth’s father was a sugar refiner.
- Her family moved to New York when she was twelve after a fire destroyed her father’s business.
- Here, the family became involved in the abolitionist movement. At the dinner table, they often talked about slavery, child labor, and women’s rights. Elizabeth’s parents were unusual for the time in that they did not believe in hitting children; they also believed all children, including girls, needed an education.
- The family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father died when she was 17, leaving the family with very little money.
- Elizabeth and her sisters opened a school to earn an income. Later, Elizabeth took a teaching job in Kentucky. She was deeply troubled by the slavery she saw there and left after just one term.
- Elizabeth started thinking about medicine after a friend became ill and commented that she wished she’d had a female doctor caring for her. She went to work as a teacher once again, this time in North Carolina, to earn money for medical school.
- Every medical school she applied to turned her down because she was a woman. Some doctors suggested she disguise herself as a man to get in. Finally she was accepted at the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York.
- During the summers between college terms, Elizabeth worked at a clinic for the poor in Philadelphia. Some male doctors refused to work with her and would even walk out when she was on duty.
- Elizabeth studied in France and learned how to care for pregnant women. While in Europe, Elizabeth got an eye infection from a patient and lost sight in one eye, which was later removed.
- In 1857, she organized the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She also gave lectures about the importance of education for girls.
- During the Civil War, she helped train and organize nurses.
- Elizabeth retired from medicine in 1874. She spent many years traveling in Europe and writing and lecturing about social causes.
- She died in Sussex in 1910.
- Persecution: to harshly treat someone, often for that person’s beliefs
- Endure: to survive
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Did Elizabeth Blackwell ever marry?
Answer: Elizabeth was very independent, headstrong, and spirited. Men courted her but she had little interest in marrying.
Watch a video about Elizabeth Blackwell.