Influential Women #13: Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

The thirteenth woman in my influential women series has roots in the medical world. Meet Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, ladies and gentlemen. Elizabeth was the first woman in the United States to obtain a medical degree, and as you can imagine she did not manage to do that without opposition. She, however, did not give a damn about what anyone thought of her.

Elizabeth grew up in a fairly progressive family. Her father wanted his daughters educated, and worked hard so they would be able to get whichever education they wished. Thanks to his efforts, Elizabeth and her sisters got a proper elementary and even secondary education. Not many women from their time could say the same – by the end of the 19th century, it wasn’t very common at all for women to continue education after elementary.

And that is exactly why it was very hard for Elizabeth to get ino medical school. Many schools turned her down, saying “a woman is of inferior intelligence” and the “if she would prove to be equal” it would be an insult to men. Eventually, however, Elizabeth was accepted by Geneva Medical College. The (male) students of GMC were asked whether they would be okay with having a woman studying with them, and if . “”even only one would oppose Elizabeth would not be accepted. All men voted for her, thinking that having a woman studying with them would be “quite enticing”.

The entire time she studied there, Elizabeth was bothered by male students in many ways. She managed to ignore the many moves they made on her, but ran into many prejudices as the result of that. However, Elizabeth didn’t give a damn what they thought of her. I quote: “As to the opinion of people, I don’t care one straw personally.” And these were not just empty words. Eventually Elizabeth came to the point where she had to write a thesis. She had taken a particular interest in illnesses like syphilis and typhus. However, people strongly advised her not to write about those, because it would be inappropriate for a woman to write about that… So that’s exactly what she did.

In short, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell literally crushed anyone who even remotely underestimated her by doing exactly what they said time and again that she shouldn’t or couldn’t do. She proved them wrong and rubbed it in their faces with a smile on her face, and I feel like that’s the best kind of revenge anyone can get.

  • L. Parole

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