A Tribute to Womanhood
Welcome to "I Am Woman"...a tribute to all those women who had the courage and perseverance to stand up and fight for their rights. Thanks to those who came before us we enjoy a freedom unknown to women not too long ago. But, sadly, in many parts of the world, women continue to be repressed. In fact, even in this country there are women living today under the threat of violence...completely controlled by a violent spouse. Some may make it; others won't. Hopefully, one day ALL women will be free. May that day come soon.
Elizabeth Blackwell was born on February 3, 1821 in Bristol, England. She was the 4th child in a birth line of 9 children. Her father owned a sugar refinery business and always encouraged the children to make their own opportunities in life. One night, when Bess, as she liked to be called, was 11 years old, a fire destroyed her father's business, and her father moved the family to the United States in the hopes of getting a new start in life. Unfortunately, his business did not do very well and he moved his family from New York to New Jersey and then on to Cincinnati where he died, leaving the family without any financial resources.
To support the family, Elizabeth, her mom and two sisters opened a private school to support the family, but Bess had dreams of being more than a teacher, for while she was growing up, two of her brothers and six sisters died...and she vowed that one day she would become a doctor to babies and women. So, Bess taught and saved as much money as she could to fulfill her dream.
Finally, when she could afford tuition, Bess applied to medical school. In fact, she applied to 22 different medical schools before she was accepted at Geneva College...and that was only by accident. It was rumored that her acceptance had actually been a joke, and as she worked her way through her courses, she was not very well received by the others, especially by the doctors who did everything they could to thwart her progress. The people in town thought she was an indecent woman and refused to speak to her. At one point, she was asked by the other students to leave, but she refused. She had made of her mind that she was going to be a doctor.
Then, on January 23, 1849, history was made when young Bess ascended the platform of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva, New York and received a diploma conferring on her the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Thus, after many years of determined effot, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to complete a course of study in medicine and receive her M.D. The church was packed with women and when Bess was handed her degree, they broke out in applause.
Shortly thereafter, Bess became a naturalized citizen before traveling to Europe for further study. However, there she suffered from and infection and lost the sight in one eye. Handicapped now by partial blindness, she gave up her dream of becoming a surgeon and went to work at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London. In 1851, Bess returned to the United States and opened opened a private practice, but, because men still handled all the family financial matters, she had very few patients. Then, in 1857, she established the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. The hospital, now known as New York Downtown Hospital, remains open to this day.
In 1868, she and her sister opened the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary, and the following year, she returned to England where she lived the rest of her life. There she founded the London School of Medicine for Women. She retired in 1877. Bess died at the age of 89 in her home on May 31, 1910 leaving behind a legacy that would pave the way for countless generations of women physicians.