Elizabeth Blackwell is banned from most hospitals and moves to Paris
Banned from practice in most hospitals she was advised to go to Paris, France and train at La Maternité, but while she was there her training was cut short when she caught a serious eye infection, purulent ophthalmia, from a baby she was treating.
She had her eye removed and replaced with a glass eye.
Hard work and perseverance put her at the top of her class when she graduated in 1849 (medical schools were two-year programs at this time). Even this excellent academic record did not win her a job at any of the US hospitals she applied to. Taking advice from older colleagues, she moved to Paris, to try her luck there. After many rejections, she applied as a midwife-trainee at La Maternite, in order to continue her education, if not her career.
While caring for an infant with an eye infection, Dr. Blackwell also became infected. Despite quick treatment, and long weeks of bandaged eyes, she became blind in one eye. Because of the nature of the infection, this eye was eventually removed and replaced by one of glass. This loss was more than a blow to vanity; it put an end to her dreams of becoming a surgeon.
Resolved to continue, no matter the obstacle, she moved to London in 1850 and was accepted as an intern at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, one of the most prestigious in the country. After a year there, she returned to the US, settling in New York City. There, she ran into problems with suspicious landlords that did not want to rent office space to a woman, especially one that claimed to be an M.D. When one finally did relent, she was charged three times the normal rent.
In order to increase business, and provide information to the general public, Dr. Blackwell began giving lectures on women's health. In 1853 she opened a clinic for poor women and children in Manhattan. From this point on her career took a steady upward trajectory.
She made some changes in her personal life at this time as well. In 1854 she adopted a little Irish orphan named Kitty Barry; Kitty becomes a lifelong companion, as well as adopted daughter. Elizabeth's sister Emily receives her medical degree, amid much discrimination, and they begin to work together.
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."
By mid-1851, the substantial amount of training she had received, in addition to her medical school studies, made Blackwell more than ready for private practice. However, no male doctor would even consider the idea of a female associate, no matter how well trained. Her younger sister Emily had been struggling to become a doctor in America, and so Blackwell returned to the United States with the intention of setting up a joint practice.
She decided to pursue further study, and, after becoming a naturalized United States citizen, she left for England.
After a brief stay in England, Elizabeth Blackwell entered training at the midwives course at La Maternite in Paris. While there, she suffered a serious eye infection which left her blind in one eye, and she abandoned her plan to become a surgeon.
From Paris she returned to England, and worked at St. Bartholomew's Hospital with Dr. James Paget. It was on this trip that she met and became friends with Florence Nightingale.