23 Jan 1849: First Women in America to Receive a Medical Degree

Her name was Elizabeth Blackwell, better known as Bess. She was born in Bristol England on the 2rd of February 1821, and died on the 31st of May 1910 at the age of 89. She had 9 Brothers and Sisters all very well educated as her Father believed that all children should be educated not just the boys.

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell by Joseph Stan...

Image via Wikipedia

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell by Joseph Stanley Kozlowski, 1905. Syracuse University Medical School collection.

Elizabeth Blackwell started teaching in Kentucky to make money to pay for medical school. The story goes that she applied to and got rejected by either 27 or 28 medical schools. Finally she was accepted at the Geneva Medical College in New York. But it was mainly thought a bit of joke by the men that attended the College, and she was accepted on a student vote. As you can imagine she had a very hard time at the College. Not only did Elizabeth graduate, she graduated in the top of her class, and on the 11th of January 1849, she became the first women to achieve a medical degree in the US and graduated on the 23rd of January 1849.

English: u.s. postage stamp of 1974, depicting...

Image via Wikipedia

Blackwell was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp in 1974, designed by Joseph Stanley Kozlowski. Syracuse University Medical School collection.

In 1857, Blackwell, along with her sister Emily and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, founded their own infirmary, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, in a single room dispensary near Tompkins Square in Manhattan. In 1869, she left her sister Emily in charge of the college and returned to England. There, with Florence Nightingale, she opened the Women’s Medical College. Blackwell taught at the London School of Medicine for Women, which she had co-founded, and accepted a chair in gynecology. She retired a year later.
Wikipedia has some good information if you would like to know more about “Bess”

A song written & performed by Jonathan Sprout about Elizabeth Blackwell.

The video below is part of a play about the life of Elizabeth Blackwell
“A Lady Alone”
Dr Eckhert was inspired to write this play after visiting Hobart and
William Smith College with her son on a college tour. “It is a story
that needed to be told.” Source

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38 Responses to 23 Jan 1849: First Women in America to Receive a Medical Degree

  1. barb19 says:

    That was so interesting Mags – Elizabeth Blackwell was certainly a woman before her time; she was one determined lady! Thanks for the links.

  2. Elyse says:

    What a wonderful story — inspiring!
    I work for a “lady doctor” — one of three in her class when she graduated medical school in 1968. She’s brilliant and has talked about the difficulties of being a woman in a man’s world. Things are changing, but not as quickly as we might have hoped.

  3. I’m so pleased to see you post this. Our city has a dearth of doctors. When I heard there was a new doctor in town–and not only that, but his wife was also one–I immediately went down to see if I could be taken on by one of them as a patient. I am soooooo fortunate. They are both fabulous, and to the education of us as a community, they are both devout Muslims. It makes me tear up just thinking of all the lines in the sand this couple have had to cross in order to be who they are, and now so cherished here in Kamloops. Thank you for drawing our attention to the importance of giving women their more-than-rightful-place as physicians who not only attend, but care.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi weisserwatercolours,
      It certainly would of been a challenge for your 2 new doctors, but how wonderful they now have their own practice to help the people out where you live, so many places around the world need doctors, we really do need a lot more I feel.

  4. Rebekah says:

    Thank you for posting this! What a person — so strong and determined! And how far we’ve come, even if we’re not really *there* yet..

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi Rebekah,
      Oh yes we have come a long way since then, most of it thanks to Elizabeth who started teaching women and young girls herself, a remarkable Lady.

  5. What a great post. Love this story about what women can achieve. Maybe I should submit some manuscripts. If she can survive that many rejections, surely I can. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi writingfeemail,
      Oh I would definitely submit some manuscripts, and keep on submitting, you should never give up, dreams can come true, but it is still up to us to help them along. πŸ˜€

  6. El Guapo says:

    Excellent bit of history, Magsx2!

  7. Arindam says:

    What an Inspiration she was! A perfect example of the saying that, “If a person is determined to achieve something in life, then no one can stop that person in achieving so.” As always thank you for spending your time in bringing out such an inspirational story for all of us. Great post Mags. πŸ™‚

  8. A great blog my friend , great historical interest , can only imagine the hurdles she had to overcome to be recognized , her achievements certainly need to be recorded in the annals of medical history
    Ian aka Emu

  9. E.C. says:

    What an amazing Lady. I do admire the pioneers who set the groundwork for the equality of women and men. God bless them all. We’ve come a long way baby! πŸ™‚

  10. travelrat says:

    I *think* Britain can claim an earlier pill-roller than that; I only remember this vaguely, but something about her pretending to be a man so she could go to medical school (???)

  11. travelrat says:

    Damn! I meant to say, *female* pill-roller!

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi travelrat,
      She was 11 years old when the family moved to America from England, and then later she started teaching to get enough money for medical school, and was finally excepted, after setting up the practice in New York, she then moved to Paris.

      From Wikipedia:
      In 1853, Blackwell returned to England, where she attended Bedford College for Women in London for one year. In 1858, under a clause in the Medical Act 1858 that recognized doctors with foreign degrees practising in Britain before 1858, she was able to become the first woman to have her name entered on the General Medical Council’s medical register (1 January 1859).

  12. These brilliant women had so much with which to contend to finally manage to achieve what they wanted, thereby opening the door to others, as well as inspiring them. How fortunate that she had a father who provided equal education opportunities for all of his children, both male and female. My father was born in the XXth Century, and he still believed that females were intellectually inferior to males. Old ideas are difficult to overcome sometimes.

  13. Anyluckypeny says:

    This was very interesting πŸ™‚ I like to hear about women accomplishments! Awesome post!

  14. Lenore Diane says:

    What a wonderful story, Mags! Thank you for sharing this bit of history with us.

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  16. souldipper says:

    My heart aches for her…all the nonsense she had to endure. Bless her little Aquarian heart, Mags!

  17. dearrosie says:

    It’s thanks to women like Elizabeth Blackwell that my daughter could go to medical school without having to prove anything. One cannot imagine what Bess must’ve gone through just to get into medical school and then when she landed at the top of the class I wonder whether any of the males – teachers or students – congratulated her.

    • magsx2 says:

      Hi dearrosie,
      Indeed it would of been thanks to “Bess” for all young Lady’s that go to medical school these days. I remember reading although I can’t remember exactly where that her degree was handed to her last even though she was top of the class. Even with her degree no hospital would accept her and that is why she started her own clinic.

  18. aFrankAngle says:

    Excellent history and dedication to her day. Interestingly, I didn’t know of her, but hello … there had to be a female doctor before Dr. Quinn. Great song and video too! Very well done.

  19. Selma says:

    Very, very impressive considering the era she lived in. Her father was very progressive in his attitude towards women. She was the type of woman who is such an incredibly positive role model. So inspiring!

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