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Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell (February 3, 1821-1910), though a less famous name than Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was in fact the first woman to practice medicine in modern times. She was born in Bristol, England, the daughter of a sugar refiner who could afford to give his numerous daughters, as well as his sons, an education. In 1831, the family emigrated to the United States, and set up a refinery in New York City. After the death of her father, she took up a career in teaching. Desiring to apply herself to the practice of medicine, she took up residence in a physician's household, using her time there to study from the family's medical library. She became active in the anti-slavery movement (as did her brother Henry Brown Blackwell, who married Lucy Stone), in the course of which she made friends with Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Blackwell applied to several prominent medical schools but was rejected by all. Her second round of applications was sent to smaller colleges, including Geneva College in New York. She was accepted there -- anecdotally, because the faculty put it to a student vote, and the students thought her application a hoax -- and braved the prejudice of some of the professors to complete her training. On January 23, 1849, she became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.

She founded her own infirmary, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, in 1857. In 1868, she founded a Women's Medical College at the Infirmary to train other women physicians.

In 1869, she left her sister Emily in charge of the College and returned to England, where she taught at the newly-created London School of Medicine for Women. Her sex education guide, The Moral Education of the Young, was published in Britain, as was her autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women (1895). On her death, she was buried in a remote part of Scotland.

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