Women Who Inspire Us: Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D.

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell

Last month OHSU awarded 146 M.D. degrees. As these newly minted doctors, many of them women, head out into the world, we're taking inspiration from the United States's first female M.D. –Elizabeth Blackwell. 

Dr. Blackwell was accepted as a medical student by Hobart College in 1847, but only after the dean and faculty put the issue to a vote by the 150 male students studying there. The dean stipulated that if a single student objected, Blackwell would be rejected, but the students voted unanimously to accept her. 

During her studies, she gained clinical experience at the Blockley Almshouse which served impoverished patients. She wrote her graduating thesis on typhus, a common affliction at Blockley. 

She became the first woman to achieve a medical degree in 1849, and furthered her training and career in both Europe and the United States in the decades that followed. In 1874, she co-founded the London School of Medicine for Women. 

We're inspired by Dr. Blackwell because of her achievements, but also because of the spirit with which she pursued them. In a letter dated July 1846, she wrote: 

"I have not the slightest hesitation on the subject;the thorough study of medicine, I am quite resolved to go through with. The horrors and disgusts I have no doubt of vanquishing. I have overcome stronger distastes than any that now remain, and feel fully equal to the contest. As to the opinion of people, I don't care one straw."