BECOMING DR. BLACKWELL
Who hasn’t heard of Elizabeth Blackwell, or at least benefited from her legacy? In a time when sanitation wasn’t a priority, patients screamed in pain during operations, and women just weren’t supposed to practice medicine, she was the first woman in modern history to become a doctor. Courageously, she became what she set out to be, and went on to open an infirmary and a medical college for women, even inspiring her own sister to become a physician like her! Of course, though, it was much harder than just earning a medical degree.
Elizabeth Blackwell was born on February 3, 1821, in England. Her father believed in educating girls just as well as boys — a very liberal view at the time — and he made sure all his children received quality education. When Blackwell was eleven years old, her father became fascinated with the idea of starting a new life in the United States, and he moved his large family to New York.
Blackwell’s older sisters were often ill, and she was forced to nurse them when they were. One might consider, then, that this ultimately led her to become a doctor. But no! The thought of becoming a doctor had not yet crossed her mind. In fact, Blackwell had a strong aversion to any form of disease.
As a teenager, Blackwell became a teacher, working at it despite her disliking it. She faithfully attended anti-slavery meetings and restlessly searched for a career to match her determined self. Yet she didn’t even give medicine a thought until she was in her twenties, during a visit to her friend Mary Donaldson, who was dying of cancer. Donaldson told Blackwell that she would have suffered less if she were being treated by a woman. Then she asked Blackwell to consider becoming a doctor.
Blackwell was horrified. A doctor! What woman had ever thought of becoming a doctor? Medicine was an occupation governed by men, and only men. Besides, she hated disease. Surely it would be impossible for her, as well as any other woman, to become a doctor!
Despite these complaints that troubled her mind, Blackwell agreed to think about it and eventually decided that she would try. She had at last found something to fit with her strong-willed personality.
Blackwell began her studies in medicine by staying at the homes of sympathetic doctors. She read through the medical books in their libraries, and performed her first dissection: a beetle. She applied to medical college after medical college, and was turned down every time. That is, until she applied to Geneva Medical College.
The staff at this college were troubled and confused. It didn’t make sense to accept a woman into their premises, yet the doctor who had sent them her recommendation letter was very respected. At last they decided to leave the decision in the hands of the one-hundred fifty medical students; if the vote wasn’t unanimous, Miss Blackwell would be rejected. It seemed like the perfect plan.
But the students found the situation hilarious. When they got together to vote, jeers went up from all the young men, and to the dismay of their professors, every last pupil voted in favor of Blackwell. When Blackwell set foot on the college, she noted how calm the students were. She did not know, however, how rowdy they had been before her arrival!
Blackwell gave her best to the study of medicine, and proved to be respectful while at the same time priding in being a woman. She took notes during classes, and when asked not to take certain classes, she said that if her presence was not desired in that lecture, she would not attend it. Although she said this, her professors would consent to her being at every class.
Regardless of the admiration she received from her professors, Blackwell could feel hostility coming from other sources. Newspapers and medical journals around the country expressed their tart opinions about her. She had trouble finding a place to board in town, and in the streets she was pelted with disapproving looks from men and women alike. Blackwell began to feel lonely.
But she would not give up. In 1849 Blackwell graduated – at the top of her class – becoming the first woman in modern history to receive a medical diploma. The women who had scorned her in the streets came to the graduation ceremony in their best dresses, and a magazine in England wrote a poem congratulating Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell!
Blackwell was finally a doctor, but she came to realize something. As men, her colleagues found jobs easily. Blackwell, being a woman, would need to gain more experience than other doctors to be able to work as a physician. After being turned down by several hospitals, she went to Paris, France, where it was suggested she study at La Maternité, a large maternity hospital that trained midwives.
Blackwell had wanted to study surgery, not obstetrics; but after giving it some thought, and realizing that she didn’t have many options, she went to study at La Maternité. All her hopes of becoming a surgeon were dashed, though, when she contracted an eye infection and lost her left eye to it. She was devastated, so she asked her sister Emily, who had been inspired to become a doctor, to do what she would never be able to do.
After training at La Maternité, Blackwell went to London to gain more experience at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Though her friends there begged her to stay in England, she refused and returned to America.
Blackwell went on to become successful in her career. Along with her sister and another woman doctor, she opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She began a training program for nurses during the Civil War, and believed sanitation was important decades before a link was found between uncleanliness and disease. Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell founded the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, opening the door into the medical profession wider for women.
Blackwell eventually left America for England, where she continued to practice medicine. She died there in 1910, but not without leaving us with several important lessons. She showed hard work and determination, and believed in what she could do when others did not. She proved that women are not weak. She also learned to overcome her fears in order to help others in need, and she was and still is an inspiration to women and girls all over the world.
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I hope you guys enjoyed this! This was actually my research paper for eighth grade but I decided to post it here anyway. This is dedicated to anyone who’s been told that they can’t do something.
And as always, Jesus loves YOU!