Elizabeth Blackwell becomes first women to earn medical degree in US
When they discovered that she was serious, both students and townspeople were horrified.
She had few allies and was an outcast in Geneva. At first, she was even kept from classroom medical demonstrations, as inappropriate for a woman. Most students, however, became friendly, impressed by her ability and persistence.
Elizabeth Blackwell graduated first in her class in January, 1849, becoming thereby the first woman to graduate from medical school, the first woman doctor of medicine in the modern era.
She decided to pursue further study, and, after becoming a naturalized United States citizen, she left for England
On 11 January 1849, she became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States, and graduated, on 23 January 1849, first in her class.
All eyes were upon the young woman whom many regarded as immoral or simply mad, but she soon proved herself an outstanding student. Her graduation in 1849 was highly publicized on both sides of the Atlantic. She then entered La Maternité Hospital for further study and practical experience. While working with the children, she contracted purulent conjunctivitis, which left her blind in one eye.
In November 1847, Blackwell arrived at Geneva College, where the wives of the faculty and the women of the town thought her "either wicked or insane," and so stayed carefully away. Passing her final examinations at the head of the class, she was granted a medical degree on January 23, 1849, an occurrence so unprecedented that the English humor weekly Punch memorialized it in a set of verses. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell then returned to Philadelphia, where the formerly hostile hospitals now grudgingly permitted her further study. She was determined to become a surgeon.
After several months in Pennsylvania, during which time she became a naturalized citizen of the United States, Blackwell traveled to Paris, where she hoped to study with one of the leading French surgeons. Denied access to Parisian hospitals because of her gender, she enrolled instead at La Maternite, a highly regarded midwifery school, in the summer of 1849. La Maternite's intensive course in obstetrics concerned both pre- and post-natal care, and often involved extremely ill infants. While attending to a child some four months after enrolling, Blackwell inadvertently splashed some pus from the child's eyes into her own left eye. The child was infected with gonorrhea, and Blackwell contracted ophthalmia neonatorum, a severe form of conjunctivitis which rendered her unable to "work or study or even read," and which later necessitated the removal of the infected eye. Although the loss of an eye made it impossible for her to become a surgeon, it did nothing to alter her intention of becoming a practicing physician--which was in no way guaranteed simply by her medical degree.
Unable to receive training, or even recognition, at Parisian hospitals, Blackwell left France for London in October 1850. Partially through the intervention of a cousin, she was allowed to study under Sir James Paget in nearly all the wards of venerable St. Bartholomew's Hospital. While in London she became friends with the widow of Lord Byron and with Barbara Leigh Smith, who was one of the strongest proponents of the education of women in England and laterthe founder of England's first feminist committee. She also met Florence Nightingale shortly before that famous reformer defied convention and her family to study nursing; Blackwell wholeheartedly agreed with Nightingale's belief that "sanitation was the supreme goal of medicine."