On This Day: First Woman in U.S. to Earn Medical Degree

January 23, 2024

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, who became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States upon graduating from Geneva Medical College on January 23, 1849.

What To Know: Born in 1821 in England, Dr. Blackwell decided to study medicine after a sick friend believed she could have been treated better by a female doctor. She was admitted to Geneva Medical College in New York only because her application was believed to be a joke from the college’s rival school. Dr. Blackwell, however, graduated at the top of her class.

Her Career: After continuing her medical training in Europe, Dr. Blackwell returned to the U.S. and opened her own small clinic after being unable to find a hospital willing to hire a female doctor. In 1857, she opened the New York Infirmary for Women & Children with her sister (also a doctor) to provide jobs for women physicians and medical care to the poor. In 1867, she opened a medical college for women in New York City.

Did You Know? About 38% of active physicians in the U.S. are women, according to 2023 data. Specialties show a wide range of women to men ratios. For example, about 66% of pediatricians are women while about 6% of orthopedic surgeons are women.

Read More:

Here’s a brief overview of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell from Library of Congress

Why Dr. Blackwell decided to study medicine

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

U.S. Physician Workforce Data Dashboard

by Emily Hooker, based in Texas