Rare Book Profile: Elizabeth Blackwell’s Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women


Elizabeth Blackwell’s Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women (London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., c1895) is a first-hand account of the beginning of women as medical professionals in modern times.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was the first woman to receive a degree from a medical college and a pioneer in public health.  She was born in England, to a family dedicated to social reform, and came to the United States in 1832, when her father, Samuel Blackwell, relocated the family to participate in the abolitionist movement. Elizabeth initially became a teacher, but became interested in medicine when a dying friend told her that women would suffer much less in the care of a woman physician. Blackwell studied to acquire the prerequisite education, then applied to and was rejected by almost every medical school in the Northeast. Geneva Medical College, a small school in western New York finally accepted her in 1847. She graduated in 1849, and went to study in the great teaching hospitals of Europe. The only opportunity offered in Paris was at the lying-in hospital, La Maternité, where she trained in midwifery and diseases of women and children. She studied for several months at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. An eye injury thwarted her ambition to become a surgeon, so in 1851 she returned to the United States, where she opened a practice in New York City. She opened her own dispensary in 1853, and then closed it to establish the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in 1857, providing hospital care for the poor and training for female medical and nursing students.

In 1858, Blackwell went on a year-long lecture tour of Great Britain, and became the first woman to have her name on the British Medical Register. During the American Civil War, Blackwell helped organize the Women’s Central Association of Relief, training nurses for military service, and later helped create the United States Sanitary Commission. Blackwell established the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary in 1868, and in 1869 she returned to England, established a medical practice, and was professor of gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Children from 1875 until her retirement in 1907.

The Health Sciences Library’s copy is the first edition, bound in publisher’s green cloth with gilt-stamped spine, blind-stamped boards, and black coated endpapers. It was given to the library by Dr. James J. Waring.

Rare materials are available to individuals or groups by appointment on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or at other times by arrangement. To schedule an appointment, contact Emily Epstein, emily.epstein@ucdenver.edu or 303-724-2119.

[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]