Skip Navigation Bar
 
That Girl There Is Doctor Is Medicine. Elizabeth Blackwell, America's First Woman M.D. written in white lettering.

"A blank wall of social and professional antagonism."

Career

Soon after graduation, Elizabeth left for England and Paris, hoping to supplement her Geneva education with study at the great hospitals of Europe. Though told that she would be welcomed at the teaching hospitals of Paris, the only opportunity she was offered was at the lying-in hospital, La maternité. There she found that her medical training gave her no status above that of the uneducated French village girls who were training to become midwives. Nevertheless, she considered the training in women's and children's diseases, as well as midwifery, to be excellent. She next studied for several months study at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, where she was welcomed by the faculty -- except the Professor of Midwifery, who told her that "his neglecting to give me aid, was owning to no disrespect to me as a lady, but to his condemnation of my object!"

Exterior view of the front and left side of the La maternité de Paris.

Delaunay, Paul.
La maternité de Paris
Paris: Jules Rousset, 1909
National Library of Medicine

Exterior view of the courtyard of St Bartholomew's Hospital in London. There are people walking in the courtyard and a horse and carriage on the right side.

St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London.


Elizabeth returned to the United States in 1851 and settled in New York City, where she hoped to establish a practice. However, patients were slow in coming and she described "a blank wall of social and professional antagonism." Her career instead took the direction it was to have for the rest of her life: the promotion of hygiene and preventive medicine among both lay persons and professionals and the promotion of medical education and opportunities for women physicians.

Anonymous article from the September 12, 1851 issue of the New York Tribune. The article describes her return from Europe.

New York Tribune,
Sept. 12, 1851
Courtesy Library of Congress

Title page of Lectures on the Laws of Life, with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls by Elizabeth Blackwell.

Elizabeth Blackwell.
Lectures on the Laws of Life,
with Special Reference to the
Physical Education of Girls

London: Sampson Low, Son & Marston, 1871
National Library of Medicine

First presented as a series of lectures in New York in 1852, Lectures on the Laws of Life argues the need for physical education and exercise for the proper physical and moral development of children.


Soon after her return to the U.S., Elizabeth opened a free dispensary to provide out-patient treatment to poor women and children, but it was open only a few hours a week and its services were limited. In 1857, she closed the dispensary and opened the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, a full-scale hospital with beds for medical and surgical patients. It's purpose was not only to serve the poor, but also to provide positions for women physicians and a training facility for female medical and nursing students. The medical staff at first consisted of Elizabeth and two of her protégés, her sister Emily and Marie Zakrzewska. This institution still exists as the New York University Downtown Hospital.

Elizabeth believed that women should receive their medical education alongside men in the established medical schools. She was not sympathetic to the women's medical schools that had opened in Boston, Philadelphia and New York in the 1850s. However, since the women trained in her Infirmary were not able to gain admission to the male medical colleges, she was persuaded to establish her own women's medical college.

Title page of Address on the Medical Education of Women by Elizabeth and Emilie Blackwell.

Elizabeth and Emilie Blackwell.
Address on the Medical Education of Women.
New York: Baptist & Taylor, 1864
National Library of Medicine

Title page of Medicine as a Profession for Women by Elizabeth Blackwell. Page 3 of Women from Medicine as a Profession for Women by Elizabeth Blackwell.

Elizabeth Blackwell.
Medicine as a Profession for Women.
New York: Trustees of the New York Infirmary for Women, 1860.
National Library of Medicine


The Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary opened its doors in 1868, with fifteen students and a faculty of nine, including Elizabeth, as Professor of Hygiene, and her younger sister Emily as Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women. The year after the College's opening, Elizabeth left for England, leaving the College under Emily's directorship.

Page 5 of the Fourteenth Annual Report of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children detailing the Officers and standing committees of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Page 4 of the Fourteenth Annual Report of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children detailing the Trustees of the New York Infirmary and Women’s Medical College.

Fourteenth Annual Report of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.
For the Year 1867

New York: Edward O. Jenkins, 1868
National Library of Medicine

Title page of the 1868-69 announcements for The Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary.

The Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary.
[Announcement, 1868-69] New York, 1868
National Library of Medicine


Elizabeth Blackwell standing in the center of a lecture room beside a corpse that is lying on a table. Surrounding the lecture room is elevated seating with women seated taking notes for an anatomy class.

"The anatomy lecture room at the Woman's Medical College of New York Infirmary."
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,
April 16, 1870.
Library of Congress



Oval portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell, seated, left pose, full face holding a book opened on her lap. Below the oval in the right side are the words Elliott & Fry. At the bottom hand written in black ink is Elizabeth Blackwell (M.D. 1849).

Elizabeth Blackwell, late in life
National Library of Medicine

She had always planned to return to England to make her career, and in 1869 she left New York to spend the remaining 40 years of her life in Great Britain.


<< Previous Page