Elizabeth Blackwell believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of "ordinary" womanhood. Though the world at first recoiled at the notion of a woman studying medicine, her intelligence and intensity ultimately won her the acceptance of the male medical establishment. In 1849, she became the first woman in America to receive an M.D. She was soon joined in her iconic achievement by her younger sister, Emily, who was actually the more brilliant physician.Exploring the sisters' allies, enemies, and enduring partnership, Janice P. Nimura presents a story of trial and triumph. Together, the Blackwells founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, the first hospital staffed entirely by women. Both sisters were tenacious and visionary, but their convictions did not always align with the emergence of women's rights--or with each other. From Bristol, Paris, and Edinburgh to the rising cities of antebellum America, this richly researched new biography celebrates two complicated pioneers who exploded the limits of possibility for women in medicine. As Elizabeth herself predicted, "a hundred years hence, women will not be what they are now."… (more)
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The Blackwell family, headed by Sam and Hannah left Bristol England in 1832 with their 8 children to
men and women. From this background, emerged children who were intelligent, confident, head strong and ambitious.
Elizabeth initially started out as a school teacher but found the work to be unrewarding. She tried to gain entry into several medical schools but was barred until she was accepted into the Geneva Medical school and granted a degree in 1854. She travelled to Europe and furthered her obstetrics training at la Maternité hospital in Paris. She was appalled at the hygienic conditions at the hospital and forever valued good hygiene and public health practices. Her return to the USA was less than positive as she had a great deal of difficulty attracting patients and financial support. However, in 1857 with her sister Emily and Dr. Maria Zakrzewska, a polish medical doctor, she established the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.
As the American Civil War broke out, the Blackwell sisters and nurses became part of the team that organized care for wounded American troops following the breakthroughs made by Florence Nightingale.
Elizabeth had some odd ideas about women and men. One imagines that would be a feminist but in many ways she wasn’t. She believed the caliber of women graduating from medical programs was low, that women shouldn’t need their own medical schools, and that women didn’t need suffrage until they became better educated in order to be better wives and mothers.
She eventually retired from her medical commitments but continued to promote her philosophy regarding public health and hygiene, family planning, equality, social reform and moral rectitude.
She adopted an 8 year old Irish orphan, Kitty Barry to be both a daughter and a servant. Kitty was to call Her Doctor. Not a lot is known about the relationship but Kitty was loyal to her adoptive mother and stayed by her side. She died in 1930.
Elizabeth Blackwell died in 1910 at her home in Sussex, England.
Today, around half of all medical students are female. Their careers are the Blackwell sisters’ legacies. Florence Nightingale saw nursing as women’s place in medicine. The Blackwell sisters showed that physicians, too, can be female.
In this biography, Nimura chronicles the hardships, twists, and turns of Emily and Elizabeth’s lives. She tells how they built impeccable resumes in their training, only to struggle in initially drumming up enough business in their practice together. (“Who would want to whisper medical secrets to women anyways?” contemporaries thought.) They found ways to push forward and become both national luminaries and excellent physicians.
This work can inspire anyone who lives around the American healthcare system, especially budding female physicians. It reminds us of the history of struggle behind common contemporary practices. It also teach us to empathize with others’ difficulties because of uncontrollable things – like gender or race. In their lives, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell showed how excellence can be sought out and attained. Nimura brings that tale home for a new cadre of female medical students.
After reading the biography, I was most impressed by the snobbery and elitism of
The material is a bit dry. But it does lay out the paths Elizabeth followed to get her degree and set the foundation for all the progress that followed. She was petty about the accomplishments of other women; denigrating their character when she couldn’t put down their abilities - although, she didn’t hesitate to bad-mouth her contemporaries’ talents, either.
Interesting history. I think I probably would not have liked Elizabeth Blackwell much as a person, regardless of her accomplishments.
An inspiring biography and history of the Faith and Spirit of two Women who made a difference in the world.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I appreciate the opportunity and thank the author and publisher for allowing me to read, enjoy and review this book. 5 Stars
Elizabeth was the first in the family, and the first woman in the United States, to receive a medical degree. Elizabeth had a low opinion of women in general, and she set out to improve women by setting the example for other women to follow. Elizabeth decided that her sister, Emily, was worthy to follow in her footsteps and assist her in her lofty aspirations, so she pushed Emily into the medical field as well.
This is a well-written biography, with an impressive use of correspondence, diaries, and other archival sources. Its biggest problem is its subject, Elizabeth Blackwell. She wasn’t a likable person. Her contemporaries must have felt the same way about her, because she never achieved the accolades she thought were her due. She earned respect through her determined pursuit of her medical profession, but she was not the inspiration she set out to be at the beginning of her career.
a very readable narrative that must have taken a lot of time to research, referencing decades of Elizabeth's cross-written correspondence.
Elizabeth Blackwell was highly judgemental, anti-women's rights (thinking most other women flighty and stupid), and acted with
The details about medical practices during the time period were also interesting.
Elizabeth spent time in Paris, London, and America, finally opening a clinic for the poor in New York. Her beliefs in the benefits of hygiene, fresh air, and exercise above dubious medicines and harmful surgeries were definitely ahead of her time. She and Emily ran this clinic for decades. They later started a school for women to study medicine. Both had been against schools exclusively for women, believing they would be of lesser quality and preferring that women be allowed into the already existing schools available to men. Unfortunately, this wasn't happening, so they finally opened their own. Soon after the opening, Elizabeth departed permanently to London, first trying to continue her career (largely unsuccessfully) and then retiring to Scotland. Emily stayed to run the college.
Both sisters certainly paved the way for women to become doctors, not nurses or midwives only. This book was very readable and engaging and gives a good portrait of both women, Elizabeth predominantly. I've only skimmed the surface of what I learned from this book in this review.