Elizabeth Blackwell, born in Britain, was the first woman awarded the M.D. degree. Many nineteeth-century physicians, including a few women, practiced without a degree, but Elizabeth Blackwell wished to attain full professional status. She was rejected by all the major medical schools in the nation because of her sex. Her application to Geneva Medical School (now Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York) was referred to the student body. They accepted with great hilarity in the belief that it was a spoof perpetrated by a rival school.
Working with quiet determination, she turned aside the hostility of the professors, students, and townspeople. She earned her medical degree in 1849. Blackwell completed her medical education in Europe, but faced additional difficulties in setting up her practice when she returned to New York. Barred from city hospitals, she founded her own infirmary. Eventually she founded a Women’s Medical College to train other women physicians.
Blackwell’s educational standards were higher than the all-male medical schools. Her courses emphasized the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene to prevent diseases. She later returned to Britain and spent the rest of her life there, working to expand medical opportunities for women as she had in America.