In fall 2006, Feminists for Life hosted the first ever e-tutorial of its kind: Pro-Woman Answers to Pro-Choice QuestionsSM.
In celebration of Women's History Month 2007, FFL developed a new e-tutorial about our feminist foremothers. As you get to know these courageous women a bit better, I hope that you will plan on sharing our rich pro-woman, pro-life history by forwarding FFL's "Herstory of the Week" to your family and friends.
Feminists for Life proudly works to realize the unfulfilled vision of Susan B. Anthony, who urged the feminist movement to address the root causes that drive women to abortion. You can help share our message (and your sense of humor!) with our Susan B. Anthony and other feminist foremother mugs.
1849 Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) became the first woman to receive
a medical degree from an American medical school, and in 1859 became the first
woman on the British medical register. She was ardently anti-abortion and
pro-woman, choosing to enter the field of medicine partly because she was
repulsed that the term 'female physician' was applied to abortionists.
Born in Bristol, England,
Blackwell moved with her family to the United States at the age of eleven.
The Blackwell family was very active in the movements to abolish slavery and
enfranchise women; Elizabeth’s sisters-in-law included suffragists Lucy Stone
and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, and she was a friend to abolitionist novelist
Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Initially repulsed by
the idea, more than one event contributed to Blackwell’s entering the medical
profession. 'The idea of winning a doctor’s degree,' she wrote, 'gradually
assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed
an immense attraction for me.'
The idea was suggested,
for example, by a friend dying of cancer, who told her 'If I could have been
treated by a lady doctor, my worst sufferings would have been spared me' and
recommended that Blackwell devote her intellect and love of study to the service
of suffering women. 'Why don't you study medicine?' her friend asked.
Related concerns eventually
convinced Blackwell. Struck by an article in the New York Herald about
Madame Restell, a woman notorious for selling abortifacient medicines and
performing surgical abortions, Blackwell wrote in her diary:
gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me
with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. That the honorable term
'female physician' should be exclusively applied to those women who carried
on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation
of what might and should become a noble position for women…. I finally determined
to do what I could do 'to redeem the hells,' and especially the one form of
hell thus forced upon my notice.
fact that other people considered her medical education impossible only
spurred Blackwell on. She read medical texts with physician friends
and applied to several medical schools. She was eventually accepted
by Geneva Medical College in New York in 1847; anecdotal evidence suggests
that the male students may have voted in favor of her admission as a
joke. Blackwell graduated at the top of her class.
After gaining more
practical experience in clinics and studying midwifery in Paris and
London, where she met Florence Nightingale, Blackwell returned to the
United States, where in 1857 she incorporated her dispensary as the
New York Infirmary for Women and Children with her sister Emily—America’s
second female physician—and their friend Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. The Infirmary
was the first American hospital staffed by women, providing medical
training and experience for women doctors as well as care for the poor.
Blackwell later opened a women’s medical college at the hospital, based
on a plan developed with Nightingale.
In 1869, Blackwell returned
to England permanently, where she established a private practice, helped organize
the National Health Society, and became professor of gynecology at the London
School of Medicine for Women.
Feminism Yesterday and Today, Mary Krane Derr, Rachel Macnair, Linda
of Destiny: The Life Story of the First Woman Doctor, Ishbell Ross,
(New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949), p. 88.