By Rosanna Zhao, VI Form
Women’s Movement into the Medical Field in Late 19th Century America: Uncovering the Story of Elizabeth Blackwell
Section I. Introduction
“Medicine is so broad a field, so closely interwoven with general interests, dealing as it does with all ages, sexes and classes, and yet of so personal a character in its individual appreciations, that it must be regarded as one of those great departments of work in which the cooperation of men and women is needed to fulfill all its requirements.”
Elizabeth Blackwell, 1849
During the nineteenth century, most middle class women did not have a voice or place in the workforce outside the home. Instead, they served as housewives, taking care of the family by doing domestic chores, gardening, or nurturing their husbands and children. However, as the women’s rights movement took root with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, women began to fight for a role in the workplace and rebelled against the cult of domesticity. Although they faced obstacles along the way and gender equality in the workplace is still imperfect, there were many successes over the following 150 years.
Throughout the past several decades, the number of employed women increased drastically. Women in the labor force rose by an astonishing 257%. In the medical field, for example, there were no accredited female doctors in the first half of the nineteenth century, but women now make up over a third of doctors in the United States. This remarkable change had roots going back to the mid-nineteenth century, when more women strove to join professional fields, especially the medical field. For centuries, women such as abortionists and midwives had practiced forms of medicine, but the general public did not consider them to be legitimate physicians. Therefore, not only were more women trying to become integrated into the medical field as professional physicians, but they were also striving to attend medical school in order to prove that their knowledge and ability as physicians were equal to those of men. In the early nineteenth century, no medical schools admitted women. In this biased environment, many trailblazers paved the way to allow more women to attend medical schools and become physicians. One of the most notable trail blazers during the mid-nineteenth century was Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Throughout her journey, Blackwell faced many obstacles. However, she was able to become a physician because she was able to persevere through the many challenges in her away.
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Rosanna Zhao is a VI Form boarding student from Shanghai, China. She enjoys playing tennis, singing spontaneously, and hanging out with her friends.