On this year’s International Women’s Day, we celebrate the theme #PressForProgress, focusing on gender inclusion in all aspects of society.
Inspired by this theme, we are excited to share the story of Elizabeth Blackwell: a true pioneer for inclusion in the medical world and the first woman to graduate with a medical degree in the US.
Who was Elizabeth Blackwell?
Elizabeth Blackwell was born in England 1821, and moved to the US with her family when she was 11 years old. Elizabeth decided that she wanted to study medicine after the passing of her close friend, who said that she would have suffered less if she’d had a female doctor.
After applying to and being rejected from several medical colleges in the US, 26 year-old Elizabeth was finally admitted to Geneva Medical College in 1847. She was the first woman to ever attend the college. Some believe that the all-male board’s decision to let her in was actually a joke, and that they didn’t think she’d actually show up.
Elizabeth was met with suspicion and doubt from both her male classmates and professors.
Elizabeth, however, refused to be denied vital parts of her education and convinced the professor that she could handle the same things her male classmates could.
At the forefront for women in medicine
In 1849, she graduated from Geneva Medical College as the first ever woman to accomplish a medical degree in the US.
Her long-term goal was to become a surgeon, but the dream was crushed when she caught an infection while working at a maternity hospital in Paris. The infection caused her to go blind in one eye, leaving her unable to perform delicate surgery.
Instead of giving up, Elizabeth focused her attention on gynecology and devoted her energy to helping poor communities in New York. With her sister Emily she founded the Infirmary for Women and Children in Manhattan. Elizabeth also notably co-funded the London School of Medicine for Women, where she became professor of gynecology.
During her later years, Elizabeth worked relentlessly for women in the medical world. She also had an interest in women’s rights, family planning and medical education. She wrote extensively on these subjects, with a clear focus on equality concerning women and health.
We hope that the story of Elizabeth Blackwell’s courage and her work for equality in the medical world can inspire you to #PressForProgress too!