In partnership with Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, the American HerStory Collection will present online exhibitions spotlighting remarkable women in history. The Collection is an expansive online compilation of searchable and sharable resources, including articles, newsletters, videos and photographs featuring women who shaped the history of our country.


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The American HerStory Collection

this month’s featured story . . .

In the 1840’s 25-year-old teacher Elizabeth Blackwell decided she wanted to become a medical doctor. A female doctor was unheard-of at that time, and she was rejected by every major medical school. Then Blackwell applied to Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York. The all-male student body had to vote on new admissions. When they came across her application, they thought it was a hoax perpetrated by a competing school - so they decided to admit her.  The joke was on them when she arrived on the campus and enrolled. Her time at Geneva Medical College was initially very difficult. She was ostracized, and endured constant harassment. But Elizabeth Blackwell persisted, and her classmates eventually befriended her.

In 1849, she graduated as the first woman with a medical degree in the United States, ranked first in her class! Life was not easier when she attempted to set up her medical practice.  Hospitals refused to associate with her and she was also refused lodging in buildings where she planned to open her medical practice.  She purchased a house and opened a practice focused primarily on women and children.  Later, Blackwell wrote books on medical practices, opened a hospital for women and children, and encouraged other women to practice medicine.


Blackwell was truly ahead of her time…and progress has been slow.

Harvard Medical School admitted its first class of women about 100 years later – in the Fall of 1945. Although today women comprise approximately half of the students in medical school, they still do not constitute a high percentage in fields including neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, general surgery and radiology.  The fields of pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology, by contrast, have a significantly higher representation of women than men.  The first woman to be the U.S. Surgeon General was Antonia Novello, who served from 1990-1993. Women have also contributed to the field of medicine through the development of pharmaceutical drugs, research into diseases, and development of treatments.  Women doctors are no longer a rarity in medicine although their many significant accomplishments may be invisible to the public at large.

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