How Dr Blackwell Became the First Female Doctor

The journey to become a doctor in the nineteenth century was not a simple one for Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. During this time, female doctors were not heard of, and Dr. Blackwell was determined to change the stigma against female doctors.

Born in Gloucester, England in 1821, Dr. Blackwell and her family moved to New York City in 1832. With the help of her older sister, Dr. Blackwell raised enough funds to study at the Reverend John Dickson’s school. Recognising her aspirations, the Reverend encouraged Dr. Blackwell to use the medical books in his library to enhance her knowledge.

Dr. Blackwell then moved to Philadelphia and studied anatomy privately with Dr. Jonathan Allen, while trying to get her foot in the door to medical school. After many failed attempts, it was suggested that she either travel to Paris to study, or pose as a male student to gain acceptance into medical school.

Refusing to give up, Dr. Blackwell applied to twelve schools for admission as a medical student, and in 1847 was finally accepted by the Hobart College in New York City. Upon reviewing her application, the faculty were undecided and presented the application to the 150 male medical students to make a decision. The male students unanimously voted Dr. Blackwell into the medical program.

Dr. Blackwell graduated in 1949, becoming the first female doctor in the United States. She slowly began to gain acceptance from her peers; however, she continued to face resistance from some male doctors who were reluctant to work alongside her. In an effort to gain employment Dr. Blackwell travelled to Europe and was finally accepted in La Martinité on the condition that she be considered as a student midwife and not a physician.

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman on United Kingdom’s Medical Register

Later that year, Dr. Blackwell’s aspirations to become a surgeon received a major setback. She was treating a patient with ophthalmia neonatorum and the solution went in her eye, which resulted in her left eye being removed. So, in 1851, Dr. Blackwell returned to the United States and opened her own practice in New York City.

With assistance from her sister, Dr. Blackwell opened a medical school for women in London and by the end of the twentieth century had trained over 400 female doctors. The program was shut down when Cornell University began to accept female students to promote integration.

Dr. Blackwell was determined to fulfill her life-long dream to become a doctor, and she overcame strong rejection and resistance to pursue her dreams and aspirations. Rather than succumb to public scrutiny that women were not smart enough or should be restricted to household chores, Dr. Blackwell persevered and became a pioneer for women in medicine.

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Caitlyn Neale

Caitlyn Neale

Caitlyn Neale, aged 24, is a premedical student aspiring to become a paediatrician. She completed her Honours in Medical Science at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, has a keen interest to incorporate fun and humour into medical practice; and strives to add this fun and humour to stressful and overwhelming situations while going about daily life.