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Blackwell, Emily (1826–1910)

Blackwell, Emily (1826–1910)

American pioneer in opening the medical profession to women, who served as physician to generations of poor women and children and facilitated other women's entry into medicine through her work as dean and professor at the Women's Medical College in New York. Born on October 8, 1826, in Bristol, England; died in September 1910 in York Cliffs, Maine; daughter of Samuel Blackwell (a sugar refiner and reform activist) and Hannah Lane Blackwell; sister of Elizabeth Blackwell; sister-in-law ofLucy Stone (who married Henry Browne Blackwell) andAntoinette Brown Blackwell (who married Samuel Blackwell); aunt ofAlice Stone Blackwell ; tutored at home by governesses; attended Rush Medical College, 1852; Western Reserve University (M.D., 1854); children:Anna (b. 1871; adopted).

As Elizabeth Blackwell , the first female doctor of modern times, lay ill with ophthalmia in a Paris hospital, apparently facing the imminent loss of her vision, her younger sister, Emily Blackwell, yearning for a career in medicine herself, wrote, "Ah, I fear if E[lizabeth] be prevented from her work I shall never be able to fill her place, but I will try." In history, as in life, Emily has often been overshadowed by her pioneering elder sibling. Yet, in her lifelong work as a practicing physician and leading figure in promoting medical education for women, Emily Blackwell played a significant role in securing women's place in the medical profession.

The sixth child of Hannah Lane Blackwell and Samuel Blackwell, a sugar refiner and reform activist, Emily Blackwell was born on October 8, 1826, in Bristol, England, into a family fiercely committed to its non-conformist religion and equally devoted to such causes as abolition, temperance, and education reform. Blackwell immigrated with her family to the United States in 1832, where they settled in New York City for six years, and then in Cincinnati, Ohio. Because of her parents' liberal views, Blackwell and her sisters were educated privately in the same subjects as their brothers, an unusual privilege in an age when girls usually studied music and embroidery rather than astronomy and mathematics.

Perhaps inspired by the accolades accorded her sister Elizabeth (and equally, perhaps, discouraged by her experiences as a teacher, then the only "acceptable" career for women), Emily Blackwell also decided to pursue a career in medicine. Though several medical schools for women had been established in the United States, Blackwell felt that the training they offered was inferior to that of the better-established all-male schools. She applied to 11 medical schools—including Geneva College, her sister's alma mater—and was rejected by all of them. Elizabeth introduced Emily to Horace Greeley, the reform-minded editor for whose paper their elder sister Anna served as correspondent in France, and he secured permission for Emily to spend the summer of 1852 observing medical rounds at Bellevue Hospital. In the fall of that year, Blackwell was accepted at Rush College in Chicago. However, Rush refused to readmit Blackwell for her second and final year of training after being censured by the Illinois Medical Society for their acceptance of a female medical student. Blackwell, therefore, finished her medical training at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, graduating in 1854. She then went to Europe to augment her clinical experience, studying in Edinburgh with Sir James Simpson, a pioneer in the use of chloroform in childbirth, and in Paris, London, Berlin, and Dresden. From abroad, she shared with her sister Elizabeth, who was establishing her medical practice in New York City, the latest developments in medical statistics and medical apparatus.

Blackwell returned to New York in 1856, where she joined Elizabeth in her dispensary practice serving poor women and children in the city. In 1858, the sisters' dispensary was chartered as the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Emily Blackwell devoted all of her time to the infirmary practice, serving as administrator as well as physician, and never developed a private practice of her own. In 1868, Elizabeth Blackwell founded a medical school for women affiliated with the Infirmary. After her older sister's departure for Europe in 1869, Emily Blackwell took over administration of the Women's Medical College, as well, serving as dean and professor of obstetrics and gynecology. In 1871, Blackwell was elected to the New York County Medical Society.

Emily Blackwell never married, but she maintained a close personal relationship with her colleague and companion, Dr. Elizabeth Cushier . She also adopted a daughter, Anna. After Blackwell's retirement from medical practice and administrative duties in 1900, she and Cushier traveled to Europe where they visited Elizabeth Blackwell. Emily Blackwell died on September 7, 1910, in York Cliffs, Maine, at her summer residence.

Mary Procida , University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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