This story appears in volume 5 of The Stream of Living Souls, the Rev. Denise Tracy's self-published anthology of short stories for worship based on the lives of famous historical Unitarian and Universalists.
I have a question for you. How many of you have ever been to see or had an appointment with a doctor who is a woman?
What if we went back in time 150 or so years to 1847? How many women doctors do you think there were then?
Well, in 1847, there were exactly no doctors who were women. Nada. Zero. None. Zip. Zilch. Not a one.
But there was a woman who wanted to be a doctor, who dreamed of helping people and who changed our world because of who she was, how she lived and what she believed. Her name was Elizabeth Blackwell and she was a Unitarian. This is her story.
It is 1853. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell closed her eyes and then slowly, ever so slowly opened the door just a crack. Then she opened one eye and peeked. She looked to the right. She looked to left. What she saw made her heart beat faster. They had put up signs all through the neighborhood. Free Clinic. No one knew if it would attract any patients. But it had worked! The room was full! There were patients waiting to see her. This was a dream come true!
She was the first woman to be accepted into medical school! She was the first woman to graduate from medical school. She had studied in England and in France and received the highest recommendations of anyone. She had worked in hospitals and in clinics. Even with all this, no hospital in the United States was willing to let her be a member of their staff. No one had been willing to hire her at any medical college, because she was a woman. She had studied and worked for many years. She was as qualified as any man but she could not find work as a doctor.
When Elizabeth first arrived in Geneva, it seemed all the people in town had heard of this woman who wanted to study to be a doctor. When she walked down the street, people turned their backs and some refused to speak to her.
So since no one would hire her, she decided to found her own clinic. She bought a house in the poorest section of New York City. She lived upstairs and kept a room to see patients downstairs.
In the first year she treated over 200 patients, most of whom had little or no money to pay her. However, in only a few years, the demand for her services was so great she raised money and founded a hospital supported by the many people who believed in her. Elizabeth Blackwell was both compassionate and courageous. She wanted to be a doctor to help people, and no matter what obstacles she faced, she was determined to follow her calling.