Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Prank that Changed the Face of Medicine

October 1847
The dean and faculty of Geneva Medical College are facing a dilemma: a woman applied for matriculation. Her name is Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910). All other medical schools she had applied to rejected her, reasoning that she is a woman and thus intellectually inferior; and even if she would prove to be of equal intelligence to men, she would represent an unacceptable competition for her male fellow students.

The Geneva Medical College, however, did not give Elizabeth an upfront yes or no. They put the issue up for vote under the stipulation that if but one student voted against her, she would not be admitted. This reads a little like an attempt to show her how very unwelcome she was, and possibly to humiliate her even further. What student in his right mind would vote for a woman to have access to a medical school?

Source: Wikipedia
The students, however, believed it to be a ludicrous joke and decided to have some fun: all one-hundred fifty men voted for Elizabeth.
It was as if the world had been tipped - a female student was to be allowed into the all-male medical domain!

As Elizabeth arrived at the Geneva Medical College, all those boisterous male students suddenly behaved like gentlemen. All that smoking, elbowing, laughing and talking stopped, and students listened attentively. Despite the fact that lectures changed to the better by simply having Elizabeth present, most of her lecturers despised her. She represented a threat to a very old tradition.

Elizabeth Blackwell graduated in 1849 and became the first woman in America’s history to have earned a medical degree. Strangely, she never wanted to be a medical doctor. She wrote that she “hated everything connected with the body, and could not bear the sight of a medical book.”
But Elizabeth yearned for a life independent of husband and children and she was quite provocative in nature. Before pursuing a career in medicine she said, “The idea of winning a doctor's degree gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed immense attraction for me.”

Elizabeth Blackwell had a profound influence on the history of women in science. Although met with resistance almost everywhere, she set up a practice for women, founded the Women’s Medical College, published books and paved the way for the next generation of female medical doctors (and scientists).


 This post was featured on National Geographic and Neatorama


  1. Wow! Wouldn't she have been an excellent neighbor or relative? I would not want to have stepped in her way regarding anything she chose to do.

  2. What is sad to know that not too much has changed for woman. All we have to do is look at our Presidential election, after Bush's term was up, a woman should have won that race, one that had a lot more experience in politics, and otherwise, yet the good old boys thought it safer to go for the young, inexperienced African American male; our current President.