Elizabeth Blackwell is awarded her M.D. by the Geneva Medical College of Geneva, New York, becoming the United States’ first female doctor on January 23, 1849.
She was born in Bristol, England; her family owned a sugar refinery. She was the youngest of three girls. Her father was a Congregationalist or separatist so they were considered later on to be Puritans. In 1828 they moved to America, and by 1836, they had established the sugar refinery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father did not survive the trip, and died three weeks later. The move put them into tremendous debt.
Blackwell and her sisters opened a school called The Cincinnati English and French Academy for Young Ladies. They provided room and board for the girls, and taught them the most important subjects for girls at that time. The tuition became their source of income for their family. The school didn’t last and she ended up private tutoring.
Blackwell became involved with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in 1838 due to her sister’s influence. In 1839 she met William Henry Channing who was a Unitarian minister and she became interested in her education and other areas of reform. She studied art, wrote short stories, went to lectures, and other intellectual pursuits.
She didn’t decide to study medicine until one of her dear friends was in the hospital. Her friend was uncomfortable with her male doctors and their bedside manner. The disease was very painful and thought to be perhaps uterine cancer. Her friend liked when her friend was in attendance.
Although Blackwell’s interest in intellect and education were powerful, they didn’t help her feel teaching feel very rewarding. By October 1847 she was accepted to Geneva Medical College, now part of Upstate Medical University, in upstate New York, as a medical student. In order to be accepted they put it to a vote to 150 male students. Her education later took her to Europe.
After she graduated she set up practice in New York City. She did have some patients. She published a book called The Laws of Life with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls in 1852, and gave lecturers. She set up a small dispensary near Tompkins Square in 1853. Her sister Emily also obtained a medical degree, and she assisted other women pursuing careers in the medical field including Marie Zakrzewska.
When Civil War broke out in the United States she assisted the North and the nurses, and worked alongside Dorothea Dix in training nurses. She was working for social reform. She was friends with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Florence Nightingale. Blackwell stuck to her beliefs, and when she reached out, she found others that would help her in her pursuit to help others.