Although born in England, Elizabeth Blackwell gained fame as the first woman to graduate from a U.S. medical school.
Blackwell moved to the United States with her family when she was 11 years old. Her father died young, and Elizabeth and her sisters opened a private school in an effort to support the family.
An elderly friend of the family influenced Elizabeth’s decision to seek entrance to medical school when the friend noted that she would have felt much more comfortable discussing her problems with a female doctor. In 1847, Elizabeth began applying to medical schools.
She was turned down by many. However, administrators at Geneva Medical School in Geneva, New York, decided to let the students make the decision of whether or not to admit a woman. The students thought this was an outlandish joke, and in keeping with the spirit of the thing, voted to admit her. When they discovered that it was no joke, they (and the townspeople of Geneva) were horrified.
Although ostracized at first, she gradually gained acceptance and graduated first in her class in 1949. Geneva College, however, was censured by the New York State Medical Society for allowing her to graduate.
Elizabeth spent some time in Europe, but an eye injury ended her quest to become a surgeon. She later returned to New York where she, along with her sister, Emily, opened a hospital for women and children.
Although she never married, she adopted an orphan in 1854. She died at age 89 in 1910.