Extreme Humans

Elizabeth Blackwell – First Woman to Receive a Medical Degree in the United States

Last Updated on July 22, 2020 by Darshan Modi

Elizabeth Blackwell dubbed as the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States and the first woman on the United Kingdom medical register. She supported medical education for women and helped many other women’s careers.

Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell Superhuman Superpower

At a time when it was commonly assumed women were morally unfit to practice medicine, that they were ignorant, inexact, lacking in mental perception and contemptuous of logic, Elizabeth’s determination proved this assumption wrong. Her superpower lies in her great determination, hard work, persistence and willingness which made her achieved her personal goals and worked tirelessly to open doors for women following her. As at the time of her death, America had over 1000 practicing women physicians who had graduated with a medical diploma.


Elizabeth Blackwell was born on 3rd February, 1821, at Bristol, United Kingdom. She was the third out of 9 children. Her father, Samuel Blackwell, was a sugar cane farmer at the time of her birth. Her mother’s name was Hannah Lane Blackwell.

Early Life of Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell lived at Bristol, United Kingdom for the first 11years of her life. Her family left for New York City in America after her family sugarcane’s business was affected by riot that broke out after the widespread of cholera. In 1838, her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to help their financial prosperity. Unfortunately, her father died of tick bite 3 weeks after they got to Ohio leaving them alone and impoverished.

About Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell, as a girl moved with her family to the United States which made her dual citizen – British and American. In 1838, she lost her father which forced her elder sisters and her to start a private school: The Cincinnati English and French Academy for Young Ladies in 1839. The private School was started so that the family can have a primary source of income.

In 1842, they closed the school and Elizabeth started private tutoring. She got a teaching job that paid $400 yearly in Henderson, Kentucky in 1844. Though she enjoyed her classes, the racist behavior and realities of slavery at that time made her quit after six month.

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Blackwell grew interest in medicine in her mid-twenties. Her interest came to being after of her friend suffering from a terminal disease said she would have felt better if she was attended to by a female physician rather than male. Though, Blackwell had interest in medicine, the cost of medical school was too high for her family’s financial status. For this reason, she began to teach music at an academy in Asheville, North Carolina with the goal of saving up for her medical school expenses.

In Asheville, she lived with Reverend John Dickson, who is a physician and clergy man. Dickson inspired and encouraged Blackwell’s desire and allowed her to access his library to study medical books. While in Asheville, she started an antislavery Sunday school which was not successful. Following the closure of Dickson’s school, Blackwell moves to Charleston where Reverend Dickson’s brother lived as a physician and she taught at a boarding school in 1846. She applied to several medical schools through the help of Reverend Dickson’s brother but her applications were rejected.

Blackwell left Charleston for Philadelphia in 1847 in order to pursuit her medical school application personally. Despite various discouragement from people, she applied to 12 country schools out of desperation. In October 1847, she got her acceptance letter from Geneva Medical College, now Hobart College. Though the dean and faculty were reluctant to accept her, she was favored by the unanimous votes of 150 students of the class.

She graduated from Geneva Medical College as the first in her class in 1849 which made her the first woman in America to earn the Medical Doctor Degree. After her graduation, she supported medical education for women and helped many other women careers. She was denied a job at women’s department of a large city dispensary. With the help of her friends, she started her own dispensary in 1853.

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In 1856, her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell (third American female doctor) and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska joined her dispensary and they together open New York Infirmary for Woman & Children in 1857. This institution later opened its medical college that provided training for women doctors in 1867. She lectured at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1875.

Elizabeth never got married but she adopted an orphan Katherine Barry. She gave up medical practice in late 1870s as her health deteriorate. Elizabeth never stopped fighting for equality for all members of the medical profession throughout her lifetime. She is an author of many books such as The Religion of Health, The Human Element in Sex among other. Her dream to become a surgeon was destroyed following the loss of one of her sight to purulent ophthalmic. She received numerous honors including two institutional honors.

Following her fell from flight of stairs at Kilmun, Scotland in 1907, she had stroke which made half of her body paralyzed. She died in her home in Hastings, Sussex on 31st May, 1910. Her ashes were buried in St Munn’s Parish Church, Kilmun graveyard.

Genetic Or Learned

Elizabeth’s ability was learned. She attended many school, private tutorials and studied numerous medical books before she became a doctor.

Names Known By

  • First woman to receive a medical degree in the United State
  • First woman on the United Kingdom Medical Register

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