THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JANUARY 23, 1849

Elizabeth Blackwell Receives Her Medical Degree

elizabeth-blackwell-medical-degreeElizabeth Blackwell embraced the idea of women’s medical education on the grounds of egalitarianism and women’s rights. On 23 January 1849 she graduated from the orthodox Geneva Medical College, becoming the first woman anywhere to receive a medical degree. Blackwell was born in Bristol, England, in 1821. Her family had immigrated to the United States in 1832. After her father’s death she taught school to help support her family. She pursued a medical education at the behest of a female friend who suffered from a painful gynecological problem for which she was embarrassed to seek medical treatment. She began to read medical works on her own and studied privately with a physician in Charleston, South Carolina, before applying to medical schools. She applied to all and was rejected by all except Geneva Medical College in New York. There, the trustees and faculty decided to put it to a vote of the students, expecting a unanimous negative response that would send a clear message to the presumptuous Blackwell. The students, although no great advocates of women’s rights, conspired to play a joke and turn the tables on their teachers. They voted unanimously to accept Blackwell in 1847. Blackwell’s graduation in 1849 gave further impetus to the movement to establish an orthodox women’s medical college. The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania became the first such institution when it opened in Philadelphia in 1850.

“Women’s Medical Education.” American Eras. Vol. 5: The Reform Era and Eastern U. S. Development, 1815-1850. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 340. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.


Learn more about Elizabeth Blackwell »

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