The Colleges will celebrate the 198th birthday of Hobart and William Smith’s notable alumna Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell on Sunday, Feb. 3. In honor of the first female doctor in America and the first woman on the medical register in England, the Colleges will reflect on the alumna’s contributions to the practice of medicine and public health as well as her revolutionary role in advancing the educational rights of women in medicine.
One hundred and seventy years ago, Blackwell defied the odds and graduated at the top of her class from Geneva Medical College (the medical college which was then a division of Hobart College), making her the first woman in America to receive the degree of Doctor of Medicine. At that time, no woman had ever graduated from a medical school in the United States or Western Europe. (Geneva College was renamed Hobart Free College in 1852 and Hobart College in 1860.)
Upon graduation, Blackwell founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Later, she helped found the National Health Society, was the first woman to be placed on the British Medical Register, and taught at England’s first college of medicine for women. She pioneered in preventive medicine and in the promotion of antisepsis and hygiene.
On her birthday, a special gathering will contextualize Blackwell’s life and work with the events of mid-19th century America. Students can also follow along on social media as the Colleges share photos of the artifacts that bind her legacy to the Hobart and William Smith campus.
“As we honor the 170th anniversary of her graduation and look toward the 200th birthday of our most celebrated alumna in 2021, we pause to celebrate the tremendous accomplishment of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell – who laid the groundwork for more than a century of William Smith woman who have become pioneers in their respective fields,” says Associate Vice President of Alumnae Relations Kathy Killius Regan ’82, P’13.
Established in 1958 by Hobart and William Smith, the Elizabeth Blackwell Award is given to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humankind. HWS confers the Elizabeth Blackwell Award to candidates of significant professional accomplishments and whose work has been trailblazing in opening doors to other women.
The award was presented most recently in 2015 to Dr. Janet L. Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and in 2013 to The Most Reverend Doctor Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S. and first woman to head one of the Anglican Communion’s national churches. Other notable recipients include: creator of the Special Olympics Eunice Kennedy Shriver; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai, P’94, P’96, Sc.D.’94; former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; professional tennis legend Billie Jean King and anthropologist and author Margaret Mead.