“If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled.”
Elizabeth was the third of nine children born to Samuel and Hannah Blackwell. She had a happy childhood growing up with her large family (four aunts also lived with them.) Her father encouraged all his children in their education. Elizabeth had both a governess and private tutors.
In 1832, when Elizabeth was 11, the Blackwells moved to America. Her father wanted to get the family away from Bristol’s chaotic atmosphere. He also wanted to move to America to help the abolitionist movement. He started a new sugar refinery but this business in New York, but it did not do as well as his Bristol refinery. They moved to Ohio in 1838 to begin again. But soon after the move west Samuel Blackwell died. He left a large family and a good deal of debt.
Elizabeth and two of her sisters started a school, The Cincinnati English and French Academy for Young Ladies.
Blackwell later decided to pursue a career in medicine. But the road to becoming a doctor was not an easy one for her. She studied independently with a doctor before getting accepted to the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York in 1847. [Biography.com]
Notwithstanding the opposition of fellow students and the townspeople of Geneva, New York, and despite being keep from attending medical demonstrations that were considered inappropriate for women Elizabeth Blackwell graduated in 1849…
becoming thereby the first woman to graduate from medical school, the first woman doctor of medicine in the modern era. [about.com]
She went to Europe and trained in midwifery at La Maternite in Paris. In England she “worked at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital with Dr. James Paget…and became friends with Florence Nightingale.”[Ibid]
But on returning to the States she was unable to find a hospital willing to allow her to practice under their roof. She couldn’t get office space, “and she had to purchase a house in which to begin her practice.” [Ibid]
Her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell, joined her in 1856 and, together with Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, they opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children at 64 Bleecker Street in 1857. This institution and its medical college for women (opened 1867) provided training and experience for women doctors and medical care for the poor. [NIH.gov]
Health Education and maintaining Sanitary Conditions were core to the school. She helped establish the U.S. Sanitary Commission.
In 1877 she retired to Hastings, England. She published her biography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women in 1895. On May 31, 1910 she died from complications of a stroke.