Today In Western History: January 23

January 23 —

Elizabeth Blackwell is granted a medical degree from Geneva College in New York, today in 1849, thus becoming the first female to be officially recognized as a physician in U.S. history.

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Blackwell, born in Bristol, England, came to the United States in her youth and attended the medical faculty of Geneva College, now known as Hobart College. In 1849, she graduated with the highest grades in her class and was granted an M.D. In 1857, after several years of private practice, she founded the New York tuition was expanded to include a women’s college for the training of nurses and doctors, the first of its kind in America.

When the civil war broke out three years later, the Blackwell sisters immediately aided in nursing efforts.   Elizabeth sympathized heavily with the North due to her deeply embeded abolitionist roots, and she even went so far as to say she would have left the country if the North had compromised on the subject of slavery. However, Blackwell did meet with some resistance on the part of the male-dominated United States Sanitary Commission. The male physicians refused to help with the nurse education plan if it involved the Blackwells simply because they were women. In spite of this resist-ance to change, the New York Infirmary managed to work with Dorthea Dix to train nurses for the Union effort.

The next year, Blackwell returned to England, where in 1875 she became professor of gynecology Infirmary for Women and Children with her sister, Emily Blackwell, also a doctor. 1868, a medical college for women adjunct to the infirmary was established that incorporated Blackwell’s innovative ideas about medical education, including a four-year training period with much more extensive clinical training than previously required.


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