The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

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It was reported in 2019 that for the first time the majority of American medical students were women, but in the 1840s there were zero. Then came Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell who, in quick succession, became the first and third women, respectively, to earn medical degrees in the U.S. The Blackwells’ ambitions extended far beyond themselves and in 1857 they founded the very first hospital staffed by women. They went on to care for patients, to interact with some of the most notable figures of their era, and to lead the way for generations of doctors who came after them. And as Emily once reminded Elizabeth, the point was “to be not the first female M.D.s, but the first of legions.”

But it was not easy for them. Attempts by both sisters to get into medical colleges were either denied or met with toothless acceptance—the faculty at Geneva Medical College left the ultimate decision of whether to accept Elizabeth up to the students, who only agreed as a sort of fraternity prank. Elizabeth’s entry into this previously all-male profession was called “a farce.” They made national and international news when they earned their degrees and began practicing, and were consistently trailed by whispers and curious looks. They were written up in the New York Times; mocked in Punch, the London satirical paper; and they and their work were profiled in leading medical and women’s journals. And yet, they persisted. 

At this Science on Tap, historian and author Janice P. Nimura will talk about her new book The Doctors Blackwell that celebrates two complicated pioneers who exploded the limits of possibility. As Elizabeth predicted, “a hundred years hence, women will not be what they are now.”

  • Event Date

    Thursday, January 28, 2021

  • Start Time

    7:00 pm

  • End Time

    8:00 pm

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