Elizabeth Blackwell was born on February the 3rd, 1821, in Bristol, England. She was a physician, notable as the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, as well as the first woman on the UK Medical Register. She supported medical education for women and helped many other women’s careers. She became a leading public health activist during her lifetime.
In October 1847, Blackwell was accepted as a medical student at Hobart College, then called Geneva Medical College, located in upstate New York. The dean and faculty didn’t know what to do with Blackwell’s application because she was a woman, but also she was really special and talented.
They asked 150 male students to vote with the stipulation that if one student objected, Blackwell would be turned away. The young men voted unanimously to accept her. During her studies, professors forced her to sit separately at lectures, and she was often excluded from labs. However, she did not give up and eventually earned the respect of many professors.
On January 23, 1849, she became the first woman to achieve a medical degree in the United States. The local press reported her graduation favorably, and when the dean conferred her degree, he stood up and bowed to her. After she became a naturalized United States citizen, she left for England. She worked at St. Bartholomew’s hospital with Dr. James Paget. It was on this trip that she met and became friends with Florence Nightingale.
Blackwell returned to New York in 1851, where hospitals refused to be associated with her. She had to purchase a house in which to begin her practice. She opened a clinic that became known as the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children.
She also established the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in 1857, an institution that would last for more than a century. At the end of the decade, she became the first woman listed on the British Medical Register.
She began to deliver lectures in 1852 and published her first work, The Laws of Life with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls, which was a volume about a physical and mental development of girls. She published several books over the course of her career, including her autobiography Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women.
Since 1949, the American Medical Women’s Association has awarded the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal annually to a woman physician. The medal is granted to a woman physician who has demonstrated “outstanding service to humankind.”