On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College. She was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.
I do not wish to give [women] a first place, still less a second one—but the most complete freedom, to take their true place whatever it may be
While Blackwell had been studying medicine on her own for four years when she began applying to medical schools, Geneva Medical College, a forerunner of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, was the only institution to accept her application. She entered the college in 1847 and graduated at the head of her class two years later, despite having endured ostracism by students and townspeople for daring to challenge barriers against women in the field of medicine.
In 1851, after completing graduate studies at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, Blackwell returned to the United States. Barred from practicing in city hospitals, she opened a small dispensary in the tenement district of New York City. In 1857, Elizabeth, her sister Emily, and a third female colleague opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, a hospital staffed entirely by women.
- Learn more about the life of Elizabeth Blackwell and other pioneers in Science, Medicine, Exploration, and Invention and Women’s History in the collection Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manucript Division’s First 100 Years. The Manuscript Division holds the papers of the Blackwell Family and has compiled a Finding Aid to the collection.
- The online publication, American Women: A Gateway to Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States describes other collections in the Manuscript Division related to women’s involvement in the field of Health and Medicine. This guide’s extensive documentation of the Women’s History collections found throughout the Library is an invaluable resource.
- Don’t miss Petticoat Surgeon, the autobiography of physician Bertha Van Hoosen, featured in Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820 to 1910. Van Hoosen’s book chronicles her early studies and career in medicine, as well as her extensive travels and encounters with physicians in Europe and Asia. Also highlighted are medical issues debated at the turn of the century such as care for unwed mothers, anesthesia for childbirth, and discrimination against women doctors.
- See the Teachers Page feature Women Pioneers in American Memory, which includes sections on Suffrage and on The Struggle for Equality.
- See Today in History features on the Woman Suffrage Movement, which built on the strides taken by women like Elizabeth Blackwell:
- the 1815 birth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton
- the 1854 Ohio Woman’s Rights Convention;
- the 1869 decision by the Wyoming Territory to grant women the right to vote;
- the 1873 legal argument by Carrie Burnham;
- the 1885 birth of Alice Paul; and
- the 1917 arrest of suffragists in front of the White House.
- The National Library of Medicine features the online exhibition, “Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians“. A brief biography of Elizabeth Blackwell is included.
- Additional primary documents on Elizabeth Blackwell External are found in the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Archives. An online biography External is also available.