Elizabeth Blackwell: America’s First Female Doctor


Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive an MD degree from an American medical school in 1849.

Born in England, in 1821, Elizabeth Blackwell was educated by a private tutor until her family moved to the USA in 1832. At the age of sixteen, Elizabeth worked as a teacher to help support her family after the death of her father. During this period, urged by the suffering of a dying friend and by her private readings in medicine, Elizabeth decided to become a doctor.

Elizabeth Blackwell applied to numerous schools of medicine but was rejected by them all because she was a woman. However, when her application arrived at Geneva Medical College at Geneva, New York, the administration asked the students to decide whether to admit her or not. The students, reportedly believing it to be only a practical joke, endorsed her admission. She studied hard and endured the taunts and meanness of the other students and the people in the college town to graduate first in her class in January 1849.

One of the things she did after receiving her medical degree was travel to Paris and then to London—where she met and became friends with Florence Nightingale—to study more about medicine. Having been denied a post in American hospitals after her return, Elizabeth had to purchase a house in which to begin her practice and began to see women and children in her home, and even started a dispensary. Later, she was joined by her sister Emily, newly graduated with a medical degree, and another woman doctor. A number of leading male physicians supported their infirmary as consulting physicians.

In 1868, the Blackwells established a medical college for women, and the following year, Elizabeth left Emily in charge of the infirmary and college and returned to England to open the Women Medical College in cooperation with Florence Nightingale.

Elizabeth Blackwell passed away in May 1910, having made a name for herself as the first female doctor in America.


**The original article is published in the SCIplanet, Spring 2014 issue.

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