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Celebrating 150 Years of Women in Medicine: the Legacy of Elizabeth Blackwell

Nineteen ninety-nine marks the 150th anniversary of the entrance of women into the modern regular medical profession


On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell (February 3, 1821 – May 31, 1910) received her M.D. from Geneva Medical College (the precursor of the Syracuse Health Science Center College of Medicine), the first such degree earned by a woman anywhere in the world.

She was born in Bristol, England, the third daughter among the nine children of a sugar refiner, Samuel Blackwell, and his wife, Hannah. The family was very close-knit, and all felt a spirit of reform, dissent, and progressive political thinking. For example, they believed in free and equal education for both sexes, a radical notion in those days. Most of the children, not just Elizabeth, would later become prominent in social reform movements. When the father’s business collapsed in 1832, the family left England to start over in America.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell - Opening the Medical Profession to Women

The first woman to receive an M.D. degree in the United States


Medical School: Geneva Medical College 

Career Path: Obstetrics and Gynecology


  • 1849 - Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive an M.D. degree from an American medical school. 
  • 1857 - Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and colleagues founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. 

Elizabeth Blackwell said she turned to medicine after a close friend who was dying suggested she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman.

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