Women’s History Month: Celebrating Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to earn a medical degree in America. She was a pioneer for championing women in medicine. Later, she started her post-secondary education and helped women get trained as nurses. 

About Elizabeth Blackwell

Blackwell was born on February 3, 1921 near Bristol, England. She was the third of nine children born by Samuel Blackwell and Hannah Lane.

Their family moved to America in 1832, and they settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their father died in 1838, leaving them penniless in a nation-wide finance crisis. Elizabeth, her mother, and her two sisters worked as teachers, a profession that was majorly for women.

Inspiration for Her Career

Blackwell was inspired to follow medicine after a friend fell ill. She said that her health would’ve fared much better in the hands of a female physician. At the time, there were few medical training institutions that would take on women. During that time, only male physicians trained under apprenticeship with experienced doctors.

As a teacher, Blackwell lived with two physicians’ families where she was mentored. She returned to Philadelphia in 1847 with hopes of getting into medical school. She was rejected from all of the schools that she applied to. Later on, she was accepted into Geneva College. The irony of this situation is that the acceptance was meant to be a joke.


Elizabeth Blackwell experienced many obstacles and acts of discrimination during college. For instance, she was sat apart from the rest of the class during lectures. She was also excluded from labs and missed out on most of the practicals. The local townspeople shunned her. Eventually, she earned her classmates’ and professors’ respect when she graduated best in her class in 1849.

Blackwell continued with her training in Paris and London hospitals. Here, she was mostly relegated to nursing and midwifery. She championed personal hygiene and preventative care. She did this after she noticed that male practitioners brought epidemics to hospitals. They would not wash hands in-between patients, which lead to many complications.


Dr. Blackwell returned to New York City in 1851 in the face of discrimination against female physicians. She couldn’t practice in clinics and hospitals as they did not allow women practitioners at the time. Helped by quaker friends, she started a small clinic for treating poor women. The clinic was located in a rented house and was used three times a week. In 1857, she established the New York Infirmary for women and children with her sister and colleague’s help.

The mission at the New York Infirmary included granting positions to female physicians. Additionally, she and her sister trained women to become nurses for Union hospitals during the civil war. She had a decline in health from an infection in “Purulent Ophthalmia.” She had contracted it from a patient while studying midwifery at La Maternite. As a result, she gave up medicine in the late 1870s, though she still campaigned for her reform.

Blackwell is one of the many influential women in history and one of the first women in medicine. She was met with many challenges in achieving her career goals. She also experienced many challenges but still formed a path for other women in her field to follow.

Women’s History Month

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, the influential women in history play an important role. They changed the direction of medicine and eased the way for patients to receive better healthcare. For instance, Blackwell ensured hygiene and cleanliness were observed. It was common for male physicians to move from one patient to another, promoting the spread of diseases.

Women in medicine have shaped our history in unique ways, and their impact can be felt to this day. They were responsible for implementing better standards in healthcare and fought for equality in medical practice. They have shone a light on different conditions in the medical practices that they have taken part in. They have also improved healthcare.. Patients can now be more confident when they are in the hands of a woman.

Women’s History Month celebrates the incredible women who had paved our nation’s history. Elizabeth Blackwell was proof of this impact when she started her medical career. She later went on to open a medical college in New York City in 1869 and became a Gynecology professor at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1875.