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Rhythm-A-Day Blog for January 23, 2020: Elizabeth Blackwell 1st Female M.D.

Posted by Wolf Murphy on


 Elizabeth Blackwell becomes 1st US woman to earn an M.D., 1849

Born February 3, 1821 in England, Blackwell was the third of nine children. Her father was a Quaker, and an anti-slavery activist. The Blackwell family moved to America in 1832. Her father died 6 years later and left the family in dire straits; Elizabeth, her mother, and two sisters worked as teachers.

A dying friend told Elizabeth that her ordeal would have been better with a female doctor. There were no medical colleges that accepted women and she was rejected everywhere she applied, but she kept trying and was ultimately admitted to Geneva College, NY and began her studies—even though her acceptance letter was intended as a practical joke.

She had assistance from the Quaker community in the forms of lodging, access to medical books for studying, but still had to pay for the training. To pay for medical school she wanted to offer school classes to slave children in North Carolina, but it was illegal. It WAS legal to teach slave children at Sunday Schools, so this is what she did, though the humaneness of her perceptions of this is remarkable:

I assure you I felt a little odd, sitting down before those degraded little beings, to teach them a religion which the owners professed to follow whilst violating its very first principles . . .

—Letter to her family, July 1845

Once in school, Elizabeth was forced to sit apart from the men at lectures, was refused entry to labs, and was locally shunned as a “bad” woman for seeking to transcend her gender's place. Even facing all that—she graduated first in her class in 1849 and continued her training at in English and French hospitals. FAR ahead of her time. she focused on preventative care and hygiene in a time when the male doctors could start an epidemic simply by failing to wash their hands between patients.

She returned to America in 1851 to a level of discrimination that made it cchallenging for her to find employ, so she opened a small clinic to treat poor women. In 1857, she opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children (with her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell and another female colleague); in 1868, she opened a medical college in New York City. She was also the first woman to be admitted to the British Medical Register and could practice in the UK as well!

I ran across her headstone on Wikimedia Commons and it is so cool I'm including that here as well:

(Wikimedia Commons)

Her quote on the base reads:

It is only when we have learned to recognize that God's law for the human body is as sacred as—nay, is one with—God's law for the human soul, that we shall begin to understand the religion of health.

We're going to make a bit of a jump to find our rhythms here! But let's play a few parts of Moribayassa—a rhythm from Guinea that is played for women who need a miracle to assist them in overcoming fierce obstacles, because Elizabeth was a fierce bad-ass who defied convention, made her own miracles with the help of her community, and forged her own path. The bell part chosen here is a common bell component of the Dununda rhythms from various orchestrations of Moribayassa,


Today's Video Lesson

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