Hello SK fans,
We’re in a bit of a somber mood today. A loved one is undergoing surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed as we type. Surgery began an hour ago and is expected to last a few more. All we can do here is wait.
In an attempt to take the edge off of the anxiety, we looked up famous women in history for today’s date, and we came across Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to be awarded a medical degree. Is that cosmic or what? Whatever it is, we are already feeling much better and can’t wait to share her story with you.
Elizabeth Blackwell was born Feb. 3, 1821, in the U.K., and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 11. She seriously wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but that was unheard of in her day and new homeland. She pursued it anyway.
But it was not easy. Schools would not allow her to enroll in the courses necessary. So, her family arranged for her to be tutored privately by a medical doctor. She was as bright as she was ambitious. Her independent study was so successful, that the admissions folks (probably all guys) at Geneva College in upstate New York admitted her into their medical school. Geneva College is now Hobart College.
Not all were celebrating. There was an uproar from members of the school community, medical community and the general public. Elizabeth beckoned on, followed by her little sister Emily. Together the sisters opened the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children, in 1953.
When the final grades were released, our dear friend Elizabeth was the head of the class. She was awarded her medical degree this day in 1857. Again, not everyone wished her the best. Elizabeth first practiced in London and Paris, where her gender was not so much of an issue. She returned to the United States and founded The New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. We love Elizabeth’s focus.
Elizabeth has numerous accomplishments, among them, she is the first to emphasize the importance of hygiene and sanitary conditions for patients at the hospital and in their daily lives at home. She also returned to her native London where she fulfilled her dream of helping to found the London School of Medicine for Women.
She died at home in London on May 31, 1910, and of course her legacy lives on. In fact, the surgeon heading the medical team today is a woman, Deborah Nagle, MD, among the best of the best. We thank Elizabeth for persevering so other aspiring women, such as Dr. Nagle, can bring good health and longer lives to our generation.