Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on August 13th, 2013

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from a U.S. Medical School.

Born in Bristol, England in 1821 Elizabeth was the third of nine children.

Her father, a successful sugar refiner moved the family to New York in 1832 and later to Cincinnati where he continued refining sugar, but his business was near collapse because he refused to refine sugar processed by slaves.

He became an abolitionist as did Elizabeth.

Then tragedy struck. When Elizabeth was 17, her father died suddenly, leaving a widow, nine children and huge debts. To help support the family, Elizabeth and two of her sisters taught school, but income was a struggle.

At 23, Elizabeth became a school teacher in Kentucky. But Kentucky was a Southern slave state and Elizabeth was confronted by the horrors of slavery, chained human beings bought and sold and families brutalized, it was too much for her and she came home.

It was then Elizabeth had a life changing experience.

Her friend was dying from what today might be classified as uterine cancer. She told Elizabeth of the insensitivity and ignorance of male doctors, and that a knowledgeable female physician could have provided more compassionate care.

Elizabeth decided to become a doctor, unaware of the discrimination that would confront her. She also needed $3,000 to pay for medical school, a seemingly impossible sum.

Desperately needing to raise money, Elizabeth marshaled her courage and returned to a Southern slave state, to Asheville, North Carolina to teach. There she lodged with Reverend John Dickson, a former physician, who allowed her to study his medical books.

Elizabeth then moved into the home of Reverend Dickson’s brother, a leading Charleston, North Carolina doctor, Samuel Henry Dickson and at 25, she began teaching at a boarding school.

With Dr. Dickson’s assistance, Elizabeth contacted various medical schools but being a woman, they all rejected her.

The next year, Elizabeth moved to Philadelphia to study anatomy under Dr. Jonathan Allen but even with her medical education she was rejected by the Philadelphia and New York medical schools despite now having a medical education that far exceeded many male Pre-Med students.

Then stunningly in October, 1847 the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York accepted her.

At Geneva, Elizabeth’s academics were stellar and the all-male faculty and students adjusted to her presence. But she was alone, isolated from many social activities, as the town of Geneva saw her as an oddball. Yet she persevered.

On January 23rd, 1849 Elizabeth made history when she became the first woman to graduate from a U.S. medical school. Given all she had overcome it was reported that when she received her degree, the dean, Dr. Charles Lee stood up and then bowed to her.

Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell

Now a doctor, Elizabeth moved to Europe to continue her studies. But the hospitals rejected her for being a woman. Finally in Paris, La Maternité hospital let her enroll as a midwife, not a doctor, and she gained extensive experience treating patients.

In 1850, Elizabeth was accepted at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and the following year, she returned to New York City and established her own medical practice.

At first she had few patients, even female patients, because as a female physician, she was seen as a freak. But the New York Tribune and other publications wrote glowingly of her education, skills and perseverance.

At the age of 31, Elizabeth published the first of her many writings, and she gave lectures, all of which added to her credibility.

The next year, Elizabeth opened a tiny medical dispensary, and she mentored Marie Zakrzewska, who also wanted to become a doctor.

In 1857, Elizabeth, with Dr. Zakrzewska and Elizabeth’s sister Emily, now also a doctor, expanded the dispensary to become the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, to care for the needy, and to employ female physicians.

Eleven years later, the infirmary expanded to become The Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary, a medical school for women, as the barriers of bigotry against women in the medical profession had begun to fall, as Elizabeth led the way.

Success Tip of the Week: As Elizabeth demonstrated in pursuit of her dream, there is tremendous power in perseverance for those who are also determined to accomplish big dreams.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Elizabeth, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Blackwell

In the next KazanToday: Are you someone’s angel?

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
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