I’ve not been able to find anyone with the 2nd of February as their birthday but I have two for tomorrow, so let’s celebrate
3 February 1821 – 31 May 1910
the first woman to be awarded a degree in medicine in the USA.
Blackwell was actually British, born in Bristol; when she was eleven the family moved to the USA. It was a large female dominated family, they shared their house with numerous maiden aunts. Elizabeth had four sisters and none of them married. Elizabeth found courtship silly, and hated the idea of subjugating herself to a man through marriage. Possibly the family’s strong abolitionist leanings had some influence in this. Elizabeth’s determination to be independent led to her looking for a career, and medicine became her choice after a friend died of a long and painful illness. She managed to get accepted onto the medical degree course at Geneva by fluke, and seems to have been an asset to the place. She lost the chance to ever be a surgeon after contracting a disease from a patient that left her blind in one eye. She travelled to and fro between Europe and the US pursuing her medical studies before eventually setting up a women’s medical centre with her sister Emily and Sophia Jex Blake. They were all strong personalities and – perhaps inevitably – fell out, which led to Elizabeth moving to London where she set up another Women’s medical centre. While still in New York, Elizabeth adopted Kitty Barry, who was a sort of daughter-come-servant. Kitty lived with Elizabeth until the latter’s death, and moved in with the Blackwell family sometime after, taking the family name. Kitty called Elizabeth her ‘true love’ and asked for her ashes to be buried with her. Elizabeth met Barbara Bodichon, Florence Nightingale and lots of other interesting women who will feature in this project (be patient! I can’t help which day they were born on!) some of whom she mentored in their medical careers, some of whom became life long friends.
So do I think Elizabeth Blackwell was one of us? Possibly. She kept interesting company, and she really wasn’t interested in men; at the very least she was a fellow traveller. That’s good enough for me.
It is not easy to be a pioneer – but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world.
If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled.