Story Synopsis

The story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a degree in medicine, begins in the anatomy class at the medical school of Geneva College. It is the day to examine and study the male reproductive organs. Being that she is to be the only woman in an auditorium filled with young men, the resounding clash with the morals and societal norms of the mid 1800’s is to be heard throughout the world.  There is a disagreement between the professor of anatomy and this new exclusive student on the advisability of a women being present during the dissection of the male sexual organs. Doctor James Webster elects to absent her from the session. Elizabeth insists she is an equal and with gracious finesse and direct persistence she overrides his objections and accomplishes yet another first for women and medicine.
Born in Bristol England, Elizabeth’s life suddenly becomes altered at an early age when her father’s sugar refinery explodes and burns to the ground. That becomes the impetus for his decision to begin a new life in the United States. Setting up residence in New York City the family no sooner settles in when Samuel Blackwell finds the matter of indirect slavery imposed upon his business to be intolerable and another move is made. Cincinnati, Ohio becomes the new home for the Blackwells. But after three months Samuel suddenly dies from a biliary condition. His death leaves the family penniless, having accumulated heavy debt in establishing his relocated refinery.  It is then that Elizabeth, encouraged by a dying friend, gives strong consideration to becoming a doctor; a preposterous idea that is totally against all acceptable norms and rules of society.
But after careful thought, earning a degree in medicine does not seem to be all that outlandish to Elizabeth. With support from various quarters including her family, Elizabeth eventually breaks the prohibitive barrier and is finally admitted to a school of medicine. That triumph, however, does not come without punishing attacks from the all-male medical community with vulgar insinuations, insults and discrediting lies being the common stones thrown at this woman who dares challenge the status quo.
School of Medicine, Geneva College 1849
As part of her training, and because all private hospitals reject her, Elizabeth spends seven months between semesters at the Blockley Almshouse charity hospital in Philadelphia under some of the worst conditions found in the United States. The experience leaves her totally committed to being of service to poor women and children once she receives her degree in medicine.
Her graduation is not only a grand affair but draws attention to this new kind of rebel. Attempting to acquire her post graduate practical work at a hospital in the United States, and being firmly rejected by all, she turns her attention to Europe. Encountering the same prejudices in England, she eventually is accepted at a maternity hospital in Paris, France, a disappointing and humiliating prospect.  There, while tending to an infant, she suffers an accident that leaves her blind in her left eye, curtailing her hopes of becoming a surgeon. Eventually, though, a family member is able to get her into Saint Bartholomew's Hospital in London where she completes her post graduate work and becomes certified.
Returning to the United States she again encounters the same hostilities she had fought once before. Despite those oppositions she opens a small dispensary in New York for poor women and children. Again, as with Blockley, she deals with the dreadful plight of the poor. Consequently she sees a bigger need and along with her sister Emily, who now has also become a physician, they labor harder to establish a full hospital, eventually succeeding. During the Civil War, the hospital under Elizabeth’s guidance helps with selecting candidates for the army’s field nurses.
After three decades of pioneering work Elizabeth feels her work is done in America. She returns to England and there she engages in the plight of women being admitted to medical schools, helps open a hospital for women and establishes a medical school for women. She eventually settles into a position of Chair of Gynecology at the medical school she helped create. Woven into these ventures she encounters a serious illness requiring rest, meets and becomes enchanted with a young man, writes a highly controversial book on sex education for children and sustains a serious fall that damages her mental well being requiring her to retire from an active life.
              Three years after her fall, in 1910, Elizabeth dies of a stroke. She is buried in Scotland where she had come to enjoy the peace and serenity of a small village on the banks of the Holy Loch. She was 89 years old and at the time of her death 7,400 women in the United States had become licensed physicians and surgeons.