On May 31, 1910, Elizabeth Blackwell - the first woman to receive an M.D. degree from a medical college - died in Hastings, England.
She was born in Bristol, England, in 1821. Her family moved to Cincinnati from New York in 1838. The Blackwell family held liberal views - they were ardent abolitionists - and it was Blackwell's contacts in Cincinnati that helped her decide to become a doctor. She was a close friend of Harriet Beecher Stowe - author of Uncle Tom's Cabin - whose family was also active in the abolitionist movement.
Mary Donaldson, another of Blackwell's Cincinnati friends, had cancer. While visiting one day in 1845, Donaldson said to Blackwell, "You are fond of study, Elizabeth. You have health, leisure and a cultivated intelligence. Why don't you study medicine? Had I been treated by a lady doctor, my worst sufferings would have been spared me."
Inspired by her dying friend, Blackwell made up her mind to become a doctor. She worked as a teacher while reading medicine privately until 1847, when she moved to Philadelphia to apply to medical schools. After 19 rejections, she was accepted at Geneva College in New York. The administrators asked the all-male student body to decide whether to admit a woman. The men thought it would be entertaining to have a female among them and voted yes. Blackwell graduated first in her class on Jan. 23, 1849.
She later founded women's hospitals and medical colleges in both the United States and England.
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