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Anniversary of Blackwell’s Graduation

Posted on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Colleges proudly note it was on Jan. 23, 1849, that Elizabeth Blackwell graduated as the first woman Doctor of Medicine in America, having earned her degree from the medical department of Hobart College's precursor institution, Geneva College. On Wednesday morning, "RCP Morning Note" on Real Clear Politics also celebrated the fact and shared her history.

It also noted: "For its part, Geneva College changed its name to Hobart College, later merging with the William Smith College for Women. In 1949, Hobart and William Smith Colleges marked the centennial of Elizabeth Blackwell's graduation by presenting an award in her name to 12 internationally acclaimed female physicians. And beginning in 1958, it has bestowed an annual award on a woman ‘whose life exemplifies outstanding service to humanity.'"

The full article from Real Clear Politics follows.


Real Clear Politics
RCP Morning Note

Carl M. Cannon • January 23, 2013

Good morning. It's Wednesday, January 23, 2013, and on this day in 1849, a student named Elizabeth Blackwell earned her medical degree at Geneva College in New York, becoming the first officially recognized female physician in the United States.

I'll offer a further word on Ms. Blackwell's life and times in a moment. First I'd point you to our front page, which aggregates, as it does each day, an array of columns and stories spanning the political spectrum.

This morning's lineup includes Harold Meyerson (Washington Post), Matt Welch (Reason), Glenn Reynolds (USA Today), Jill Filipovic (The Guardian), Stu Rothenberg (Roll Call), Ross Douthat (New York Times) and others.

We also offer a complement of original material from RCP's reporters and contributors:
* * *
State of the States Slide Show. Tim Hains has compiled a sampler of messages from key governors -- Democrats and Republicans -- as their legislatures convene this month.

Two Governors Seek Radical Tax Reform. RealClearMarkets editor Steven Malanga cites Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Nebraska's Dave Heineman, who believe that government can be smarter about the way it raises revenues.

How to Read China. RealClearReligion columnist Philip Jenkins says an understanding of traditional Chinese religion and philosophy, articulated in the I-Ching, is essential to understanding the nation that looms so large on the world stage.

Ad Targets Chuck Hagel Ahead of Confirmation Hearing. A conservative group asserts that the nominee to be secretary of defense has conflicts of interest at the Pentagon given his past and present business dealings. Erin McPike has the details.
* * *

Elizabeth Blackwell's family moved from Bristol, England, where she was born in 1821, to the United States when she was 11. Her father, Samuel Blackwell, struggled in business - he was a sugar refiner - but his views on politics were clear: he was an ardent abolitionist, and a man sympathetic to women's rights.
But in 1838, only six years after he moved his family to America, Samuel Blackwell died, leaving behind a widow stuck in Cincinnati with nine children and her husband's considerable debts. To pay the bills, Elizabeth became a school teacher. Her life took a turn when a female friend who was dying of cancer confided in Elizabeth how much she wished she could have had a female doctor to tend to her.

So Elizabeth turned to the study of medicine, then an all-male field, receiving private tutorship from independent-minded doctors before applying to medical schools, which were also all-male. Every one turned her down except Geneva Medical College in upstate New York, and this school didn't accept her right away.
Apparently, the school's faculty and administration weren't necessarily inclined to break tradition, but didn't want to think of themselves as bigots, either. Someone, perhaps the school's dean, Charles Lee, hit on a novel solution. According to the college's official history, Dean Lee interrupted the anatomy class lecture of a professor named James Webster one October afternoon in 1847 with an interesting announcement.

"Gentlemen, I have a most amazing request to bring to your attention," he said. "A young lady, Elizabeth Blackwell, has applied for acceptance to our medical school."
This certainly got everyone's attention, especially when Lee added that the faculty had decided to let the students vote on the question, with the following proviso: even one negative vote would result in rejection.

Forty years later, a student who was in Professor Webster's class that day named Stephen Smith - himself destined to become one of this country's most accomplished surgeons and a renowned hospital administrator - related what took place next.

"We thought it might be fun, and relieve the monotony, to have a girl in our class," he recalled. "Everybody voted ‘aye' except one wretch, who was pounced on from all quarters until he yelled ‘Aye! I vote aye!'"

And so history was made. It's not always pretty, but progress marches on, which one supposes is basically what President Obama was trying to say in his much-dissected inauguration speech the other day.

In any event, after graduating (first in her class) two years later, Blackwell opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Eventually, she repatriated back to England, where she opened a medical facility there as well. But she left behind a trail that had been well-blazed, and therefore successfully followed by other women physicians, including her own younger sister Emily; that is to say, Dr. Emily Blackwell.

For its part, Geneva College changed its name to Hobart College, later merging with the William Smith College for Women. In 1949, Hobart and William Smith Colleges marked the centennial of Elizabeth Blackwell's graduation by presenting an award in her name to 12 internationally acclaimed female physicians. And beginning in 1958, it has bestowed an annual award on a woman "whose life exemplifies outstanding service to humanity."


Carl M. Cannon
Washington Editor
RealClearPolitics
Twitter: @CarlCannon

 

 

 


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