American Medical Biographies/Blackwell, Emily

Blackwell, Emily (1826–1910)

Emily Blackwell, a pioneer woman physician and dean of the Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary, a younger sister of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (q.v.), was born in Bristol, England, in 1826.

In 1848 Emily began a course of medical reading with Dr. Davis, demonstrator of anatomy in the Cincinnati College. Like Elizabeth she brought perfect health and indomitable energy to her work. Earning as teacher the required funds she worked hard in both capacities and in 1851 applied for admission to the Medical School at Geneva, New York, where her sister had graduated in 1849. To her surprise she was rejected. The same faculty which had testified the presence of her sister "had exercised a beneficial influence upon her fellow students in all respects and the average attainments and general conduct of the students during the period she had passed among them were of a higher character than those of any class which had been assembled in the college since the connection of the president with the institution, they were not prepared to consider the case of Elizabeth as a precedent." She applied in vain to several other colleges, but the Rush Medical College at Chicago accepted her as a student for a year; for this permission the college was censured by the State Medical Society and the second term was refused her. She was, however, received by the Medical College of Cleveland, Ohio, Medical Branch of Western Reserve University, and graduated there in 1854. During one summer vacation she was allowed to visit Bellevue Hospital, New York, when Dr. James Wood was just initiating the system of regular clinical lectures. After graduating Emily went to Europe and became the private pupil and assistant of the celebrated Dr. (afterward Sir) James Simpson of Edinburgh. His testimonial to her would be worth quoting at length.

Many such complimentary letters Miss Blackwell received from great physicians in London and Paris in whose hospital wards she faithfully studied. Thus equipped she returned to New York in 1856 to join her hister, Dr. Elizabeth, who had secured her charter to open the New York Infirmary for Women and Children—the first women's hospital in America—with the double object of furnishing free aid by women physicians and of giving women medical students a chance for study and practice. The Legislature gave $1,000 a year to each dispensary in New York, and Dr. Emily obtained it for their dispensary without opposition. She was identified with her sister in the Sanitary Aid Association and in the establishment of the college of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, of which she was dean for many years, and after Elizabeth Blackwell's return to England in 1869, the burden of the hospital fell upon her shoulders.

She was for years an officer of the New York Committee formed to oppose the state regulation of vice. She wrote and read papers on the medical aspect of the question and in every way helped to defeat the bill.

She was for years an officer of the New until 1900, when she retired, removing to Montclair, New Jersey.

Dr. Emily Blackwell was a woman of high character, of wide reading and information, and delighted in everything beautiful. She had a warm heart, though a reserved manner made her rather awe-inspiring to strangers.

She lived to see her views, which had been scouted half a century earlier, accepted as commonplaces and the reforms for which her youth had been given, growing and flourishing.

She died of an enterocolitis, September 8, 1910, at her summer home at York Cliffs, Maine.

Mary Putnam Jacobi, Women in Medicine, in Woman's Work in America.
A. S. B. Woman's Journal, Boston, September 10, 1910.
New York Evening Post, September 8, 1910.
Personal information from collegues.