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Words Matter: Elizabeth Blackwell - An 1800's Medical Muse

By Katie Guise

Born in 1821, Elizabeth Blackwell would grow up to defy obstacles and became the first woman to obtain a medical degree in the United States. Blackwell began to pursue entry into a medical college in a time of rampant gender roles that frowned on women's roles in the STEM world and found her path blocked by nearly every college she applied for. Eventually getting into Geneva College in New York, she prevailed against the obstacles in her field and graduated as top of her class in 1849. Blackwell later founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857 and continued to support other women wanting to pursue upper medical professions, including her own sister. The New York Infirmary for Women and Children became a beacon of hope for many women struggling to gain entry into the medical field and helped them throughout the process.

Though inspirational, Blackwell faced many milestones in her path to becoming a doctor. Blackwell became a pioneer for all women wishing to pursue higher education, medical related or otherwise. In addition to the blatant discrimination in her field, she contracted an infectious eye disease that left her permanently blind in one eye, ending any hope Blackwell had to become a precise surgeon. However, she refused to give up and continued on her journey to become a practicing doctor in the United States and England. In today’s world, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s persistence and strength can continue to inspire girls around the world to pursue their STEM interests in any field, even if they are male dominated. In the face of failure and sexism, Blackwell continued to overcome any obstacle, and today’s new generation can continue to bravely follow in her footsteps.

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