Women’s History Month Spotlight: Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England in 1821, one of nine children. At age 11 in 1832, Elizabeth and her family moved and settled in New York. At the age of 24, she was inspired to pursue an education in medicine after a visit with a family friend who had been diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Unfortunately for Elizabeth during this time, attempting to enroll in a medical school would be difficult. She had sent out applications to over 20 medical schools and was rejected by them all, since the concept of women enrolling at these institutions was not just unlikely, but practically impossible. After years of applications, one of Blackwell’s mentors sent a letter on her behalf to the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York, where she was finally accepted in 1847, even though it was cruelly meant to be a joke. Despite this, and constant discrimination from professors, students and local townspeople (who shunned her as a “bad” woman for defying her gender role), this acceptance would ultimately be historic as Elizabeth Blackwell gained the respect of those same professors and peers, and graduated at the top of her class in 1849.

Elizabeth founded and opened the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children in 1854 and followed that up by opening The New York Infirmary for Women and Children opened alongside her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell, who was inspired and followed Elizabeth into the medical field. This hospital was historic not only because it was founded by women, but because it was one of the few that focused on care for women and children and provide positions for women physicians.

Today, The Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary developed into a four-year medical college that is known today as Weill Cornell Medicine. The infirmary is now evolved into the New York- Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. Elizabeth continued her trailblazing ways by returning tot the UK to help found the National Health Society.