This Week's Story

Elizabeth Blackwell was threatened, insulted, rejected, and respected.

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

You cannot be a doctor! part four

What would I do in 1851 if I was trained to do a job well, but no one wanted to hire me, because I was a woman? Maybe that question doesn’t make sense since I’m living in 2017, but even now female dentists, bricklayers, and underwater welders are few. Did one of them, because she was a woman, have as hard a time getting the job she wanted, as Elizabeth Blackwell did?

That was Elizabeth’s dilemma! She could not get hired as a doctor, and when she started her own medical practice, no patients came. She was puzzled. How do I convince people that I am a good doctor and have a right as a woman to have patients? Plenty of people need a doctor’s attention in New York City where I am living. My qualifications are excellent. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the public, I am a disgrace to womanhood!

I have heard people ask, “What is wrong with Elizabeth Blackwell? Why doesn’t she teach, get married and have children, or offer cleaning services? She could be a nurse. Those are respectable occupations for a woman.”

But, Elizabeth was thirty years old, a doctor, and even with the loss of her left eye, determined to help patients. She went walking one half of each day observing young city girls. They wore corsets, undergarments laced uncomfortably tight to make themselves look slender. Their skin had poor color and their energy was low. She decided, “I am going to give a class for women on the physical education of girls. I will place an announcement about it in the New York Times newspaper.”

She did and people came. Few at first, but the size increased. She thought: These women coming are intelligent and open-minded.

She instructed them. “Ladies, I would like to speak to you about the problems city girls have in New York City. The city is crowded and its living conditions are bad for health. The girls do not know how to care for their bodies or minds. They’re weak and need physical exercise. They lack good mental stimulation! Ladies, encourage them to run, fence, dance, ride horses, learn archery, and even wrestle. They can receive more education and be confident that their lives have purpose. They shouldn’t become married young, only because they think that they can’t do anything else.

“Young city girls need to know the basic functions of their female bodies and how to eat to be healthy. Do they understand what happens when they are pregnant and have a child? No, to them it’s a mystery. They need better ventilation in their homes and less heat. Their babies need to wear looser and lighter-weight clothing. The little ones need more sunshine.

Patients began coming to Elizabeth. On the street insults were shouted at her, “You’re not a real woman. Get out of our neighborhood. Nobody wants you. You don’t have the sense to act like a woman.”

She was sent threatening and anonymous letters. “How dare you pervert the minds of innocent women! Close your business. Stop your classes!”

She continued the classes and published the lectures. She was helped financially and physically to begin a medical dispensary for poor people. Most of them were immigrants living in run-down slums. Rats infested their apartments. But, the immigrants were not prejudiced against women physicians. Elizabeth’s medical practice and influence grew.

Please join me for the final chapter of “You cannot be a doctor! part five.

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