On This Day: Elizabeth Blackwell

January 23, 2023

Jan. 23, 1849

Graduation day for the first woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S.

“I do not wish to give [women] a first place, still less a second one – but the most complete freedom, to take their true place whatever it may be.”

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell

  • Born February 3, 1821 in England.
  • Decided to study medicine after a sick friend believed she could have been treated better by a female doctor.
  • Admitted to Geneva Medical College in New York only because her application was believed to be a joke from the college’s rival school; she graduated at the top of her class.

Notable Accomplishments

  • 1851: Returned to the U.S. after continuing her medical training in Europe. Unable to find a hospital willing to hire a woman doctor, she opened her own small clinic instead.
  • 1857: Opened the New York Infirmary for Women & Children with her sister (also a doctor) to provide jobs for women physicians & medical care to the poor.
  • 1867: Opened a medical college for women in NYC.

About 37% of active physicians in the U.S. are women, according to 2021 data. Specialties show a wide range of women to men ratios. For example, about 65% of pediatricians are women while about 6% of orthopedic surgeons are women.

Worth Noting: 2019 marked the first time ever on record that more women than men enrolled in medical school.

A few more good reads on Dr. Blackwell:

Here’s a brief from Library of Congress

Why Dr. Blackwell decided to study medicine

Why the school thought her application was thought to be a joke

The 2022 Physician Speciality Data Report & data showing more women enroll in medical school

by Jenna Lee,