Elizabeth Blackwell

Born: 1821
Place of Birth: England
Died: 1910

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell was unique for her time as she not only went to college, but became one of the first female doctors. She was a groundbreaker in the fight for education for women and she and her family were abolitionists in America. Blackwell also established The New York Infirmary for Women and Children, which was devoted solely to the care of women and children and staffed by female doctors. Elizabeth participated in supporting the women’s rights movement as well as the anti-slavery movement.

  • Elizabeth was born in England to a family that was somewhat well off. As a child she watched the death of eight siblings, and eight cousins and it’s believed that this experience influenced her decision to become a doctor. This was during an era when women didn’t attend college, but Elizabeth was encouraged by her parents who believed their children should be treated equally, no matter what the gender.
  • Elizabeth did attend schools in Europe but had to stop when her father’s sugar company burned down. Her family made the decision to move to America where her father wanted to start another sugar business in New York. Their family believed in racial equality and he hired many Black Americans as workers, but some didn’t want to buy the sugar because of his employees. The family relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio and her father died in 1837.
  • Elizabeth was 16 years old when she had to help with her family and she worked as a teacher. Her mother was also working at a Black American school as the principal. Elizabeth longed to go to medical school and was rejected by 16 of them until finally being accepted by the Geneva Medical College in New York. She was a good student but was constantly badgered and treated badly by the other male students as well as the college town people. She finally achieved her degree and graduated in 1849.
  • Her desire for more extensive medical experience took Elizabeth to Paris. It was there that she developed such a severe eye infection that she became blind in her left eye. This didn’t stop Elizabeth and she continued her studies, returned to America and opened a school that was designed to help women enter the medical profession as well as make medicine available to women and children. All of this was considered to be revolutionary at the time, especially any female that was a doctor.
  • Elizabeth had one sister, Emily, that had survived, and the two women raised enough money so that they could open the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857. It was completely operated by a female staff including only female doctors, and is noted as being the first one in the world.
  • The Blackwell family’s belief in equality led them to be part of the abolitionist movement in America. They became friends with other like-minded individuals such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher. When the Civil War broke out Elizabeth took on the duty of training nurses in the Union.
  • Elizabeth’s desire to expand her medical college for women gave her the opportunity to go to England where she got help from Florence Nightingale for the Women’s Medical College.
  • Her strong ideals for women’s rights led her to continue to champion the suffragette movement in getting women the right to vote and she became friends with Lucy Stone, one of the movement leaders.
  • Elizabeth died in 1910, leaving a legacy of success for women in Europe and America. In 1949 the Blackwell Medal was established to be given to women with outstanding medical field achievements.


What medical school did Elizabeth Blackwell attend?
Geneva Medical College in New York

What first of its kind medical organization did Elizabeth Blackwell establish?
The New York Infirmary for Women and Children

How did Elizabeth Blackwell help the Union forces during the Civil War?
She trained nurses

Where did Elizabeth Blackwell go to get additional medical training?

What physical disability happened to Elizabeth Blackwell?
She lost sight in her left eye

What two movements did Elizabeth Blackwell join?
Abolitionists and suffragettes