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In America's history, numerous people have had an influence. One such woman with a strong reputation for making significant contributions to medicine is Elizabeth Blackwell, who inspired Susan Taylor to pursue her dreams fearlessly despite coming from a culture where women are underrepresented. According to Markel (2014), Elizabeth inspired beneficial changes in America that helped lift women up and give them a voice in society, demonstrating that women are capable of doing anything that males can, too. She was the first woman in America to finish from medical school, which inspires many people. Elion (2017) asserts that in 1821 on February 3, Elizabeth was born at Counter slip near Bristol a town in England, her parents were Samuel and Hannah Blackwell. Her family was wealthy and had access to good education because they had private tutors; it was also large as she had eight siblings. When Elizabeth was eleven years old in 1832, her family moved from England to New York City due to the reverses in their finances and their social and religious views since Samuel was a Congregationalist. In the year 1838, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio after which they were in financial problems after the death of Elizabeth’s father the same year. These financial problems led to the setting up of a boarding school by Elizabeth and two of her eldest siblings where they would teach.
Blackwell (2016) states that, in the 1840s, Elizabeth developed ideas, focused on the rights of women, and participated in some political campaigns. The school would do well and was innovative too; however, in the year 1842 the school lost most of its pupils due to the conservative backlash that came from the community of Cincinnati. This led Elizabeth to tutor pupils privately, but she soon got a teaching job in a school in Kentucky where she came to see the true reality of slavery. Due to this unfairness that was present in the society, she resolved by resigning from her work and returning to Cincinnati to find a much better and benefiting way to live.
Pursuing Education in Medicine
After some time, she was able to get a music-teaching job at a school in North Carolina, and she began saving up the amount that was necessary for her to be able to pursue a medical degree. Elizabeth got the determination to train as a physician when one of her family friends got a terminal illness then died thus claiming that the treatment would have been much better if it were administered by a female doctor. Markel (2014) adds that she would study medical books and still teach at the school, her interest in anti-slavery was also present. Her music-teaching job ended after shutting down of the school, and she moved to the residence of Dickson’s brother as she began to apply for medical study through letters in various schools.
Elion (2017) states that Blackwell never got replies from most of these schools and the few that answered back rejected her request. This made her leave for Philadelphia and New York to investigate if she would get an opportunity in any of the medical schools there. She attempted to get admission in the medical schools there often getting suggestions from other physicians telling her that the only way she could acquire an admission was by disguising herself as a man. This was because stereotypes of women being intellectually inferior were high at the time and in case she did succeed, she would be a form of competition.
In the year 1847, she got an acceptance to Geneva Medical College. She was lucky since the faculty assumed that the student body would not accept a woman to join them, so they left the students to decide the fate of Elizabeth’s case. However, all the males did vote yes on her admission as they thought it was all a joke. At first, it was not easy for her to adjust to the environment but with time, she was able to adapt to the level of criticism she would face was high according to Blackwell. After studying, she went back to Philadelphia applying for positions to train and gain experience from the clinics and she was able to get work in one of the clinics. In 1849 January 23, she graduated and became the first woman in America to attain a medical degree.
She moved to Europe in April 1849 to continue studying and despite her trials to apply for positions in hospitals in Europe she would still face rejection from the hospitals. However, she was finally able to get work in a hospital, Markel (2014) adds that through this Elizabeth got better medical experience and earned a name in America as the best obstetrician. She still wanted to continue pursuing more studies in surgery to be a surgeon, but this dream was short-lived when she lost the power of vision in her left eye due to contamination while treating a patient. Elion (2017) states that despite many having a good view about her in Europe she still had critics who were against women practicing medicine thus making life hard for her, which led to her returning to America and setting up her medical base.
She still faced criticism in America, which was contributed too by the stereotype that female doctors are abortionists despite this, she still went on and wrote and published two books in 1852, which were about girls and their mental and physical health. Blackwell (2016) writes that she set up her dispensary in 1852 and made an expansion on it in 1857 into, the ‘New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.’ This was with the help of another doctor and one of her sisters ‘Emily’ who had a degree in medicine too. This dispensary was for both outpatients and inpatients, and it offered training to individuals who were aspiring to be nurses.
Elizabeth’s Major Impacts in American History
The involvement of Elizabeth and her sisters in aiding and nursing casualties of the American Civil War is one of her great impacts. She had a lot of sympathy for the people from the north, and this was because of her nature of being an abolitionist. Markel (2014) says that she made not only an impact in America but also Britain where she rose funds and set up a similar dispensary in Britain as the one in America and another in London in 1874. By becoming the first woman to be part of the General Medical Council’s register, she inspired many women to work for what they believed. The founding of National Health Society by Elizabeth in the year 1871 helped in educating the majority of people on healthy living styles and the benefits of always observing hygiene.
Her involvement in movements for moral reforms, sexual purity in regards to prostitution and contraceptives, sanitation among others, also left positive impacts in many lives. Elion (2017) adds that she also lend a hand in the establishment of the U.S. Sanitary Commission which greatly contributed to the maintaining of clean, sanitary conditions. Immigrant and poor families at the time always appreciated Elizabeth and her work since the dispensary in New York would offer them the care and treatment they required without criticizing them. The dispensary now known as Lower Manhattan hospital is still a great help to many, offering quality medication. Her contributions and impacts were in advocating for a moral government, liberalizing the Victorian prudery, and abolishing prostitution among others. Even up to her death on May 31 in the year 1910, she was still an inspiration to many such as Florence Nightingale despite their differences.
Elizabeth Blackwell’s Impact on Susie Taylor (My Historical Personality)
To women like, Susie Taylor, Elizabeth was a source of inspiration, using her as a motivation eventually led to me being the first Black to be an Army nurse. Despite being born a slave and having to go to an illegal school which was under the management of free black slaves i did not lose hope and used every opportunity to learn, even from friends. Strong (2017) says life for the blacks was very hard, having to shift frequently and flee at times and finally settling at St. Simon’s Island and getting a teaching position at a school. Due to my ability to read army officers gave me books enabling me to open a school thus becoming the first black woman to teach the free Blacks. It was Elizabeth Blackwell’s books, which made a major change on me, enabling me to acquire knowledge in medicine, especially about women’s health.
She was an inspiration that despite being in a nation that would disregard Blacks and treat them unfairly, the goals of becoming a nurse were valid. Marrying a black man who was part of the army troop enabled me to acquire more of Elizabeth’s and other medical books thus furthering my knowledge. Soon I began practicing my skills without fear by serving as a black army nurse and still teaching the black soldiers who were not on duty to read and write and about their hygiene and sanitation. In 1867 after my husband’s unfortunate death, I decided to keep being a kind of reformer for other women by establishing another school in Liberty. The devotion I had to nursing and caring for the blacks and teaching them was relentless, as, like Elizabeth, others would draw courage and confidence from my actions. The fact that I was a slave and receiving no pay for the services could not explain the passion in the heart.
Long-Term Impact of Elizabeth Blackwell On The Blacks
Black women such as Susie Taylor (who was able to use Elizabeth, as an inspiration in following her dreams), will always be a role model to other black women. Most use her as an example that regardless of the current environmental conditions such as inequality, one can achieve their goals if they keep fighting and being confident. Gentry (2014) adds that due to Elizabeth and her setting up of a hospital that is non-discriminatory, blacks and other under-represented groups can benefit from it in an equal manner as others. Elizabeth’s opinions and involvement in movements (that were against slavery and immoral acts of the government) later contributed led to the rising of other abolitionists. It is through such people that under-represented communities enjoy freedom today and have similar rights as other Americans.
Women from all races can now access medical education as the level of criticism and racism has gone down thus blacks too can learn and practice medicine. This profession now offers similar opportunities to all regardless of their genders leading to women gaining success in this career. Gentry (2014) writes women can now receive better treatment from female doctors without fear of opening up about private illnesses thanks to Elizabeth and the under-represented groups get to enjoy this too since the doctors are not from one particular race. According to women such as Susan Flesche, who was a black, she was able to graduate from medical school by using Elizabeth as a form of motivation. This is because at the time black women had to face a lot of racism and they had to pay a lot of money to gain permission to train in the profession.
In conclusion, it is evident that probably the rights of women would be a niche lower today if women like Elizabeth Blackwell had not kept on fighting for what they had believed. As Strong (2017) supports this by stating, that it is the relentless confidence and endurance of such women that led to many reforms in the society. Statistics show that almost half of the medical students in America are women and a third of the total physicians are women too. Women advocates are now present especially those of under-represented groups, and they protect the rights of women especially in fields such as law, engineering, medicine among others. Where there is still a small percentage of gender inequality. Women are the ones bringing great changes that are causing impacts that are more positive and changing the whole outlook on medicine.
Blackwell, E. (2016). Medicine as a Profession for Women. Library of Alexandria.
Elion, G. B. (2017). Testing Your Patients. Month.
Gentry, Melissa. "Trials, Triumphs, and Trailblazers: Historic Women in African American History." (2014).
Markel, H. (2014). How Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female doctor in the US.
Strong, M. J. (2017). “The Finest Kind of Lady”: Hegemonic Femininity in American Women’s Civil War Narratives. Women's Studies, 46(1), 1-21..
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