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Four Years at the Mount

Freshman year

Blackwell’s Message

Angela Tongohan
Class of 2020

"If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled." –Elizabeth Blackwell

(2/2017) On February 3, 1821, Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England. First working as a teacher, she eventually pursued a career in medicine. She went on to become the first woman to graduate from a medical school in the United States of America.

She was admitted to Geneva Medical College in 1847 where she ended up graduating first in her class. However, her very admittance to the school was met with much controversy. Her peers, who consisted entirely of men, thought the admittance to be some type of practical joke, whereas the public met the news with outrage.

During her time, women were still considered lesser than men. The idea of a woman doctor was silly to many of those in society because of the idea that women were thought to be less capable and much less intelligent.

Even after becoming a doctor, Blackwell continued to be faced with the prejudices of sexism. At one point in her career, Blackwell founded a private practice in New York that struggled financially due the fact that many refused to be treated by a woman.

Yet Blackwell continued to fight. By the time she died on May 31, 1910, she had founded several establishments including the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, and the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary.

Elizabeth Blackwell can very well be considered a brave and determined hero of her time. Her tenacity has helped pave the way for females of the present day to pursue a career in medicine, a feat that may be considered commonplace today but was met with great opposition a hundred years ago. She inspires women to break barriers like this one.

As a student who is pursuing a career in medicine myself, I can only imagine the difficulty of succeeding in a subject that by itself is already notoriously vigorous and could only be made worse without the support of those around you. Being that it is only my freshman year; I can still tell you numerous stories where I have bonded with my fellow classmates over the mutual exhaustion we feel as we try and soak up the information in our very thick textbooks.

Despite my attachments to Blackwell’s career choice, I find that her success delivers a far broader message that may resonate with all those who have experienced prejudice. The obstacles she faced were mainly the result of societal preconceptions about women. It did not matter that Blackwell graduated first in her class, or that she had graduated from medical school, although both accomplishments would have fared her well if she were a man.

All that mattered was that Elizabeth Blackwell was a woman.

I would very much like to be able to say that these preconceptions are a thing of the past: That women and men have long since been considered equal. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As is evident in the current gender wage gap, the quality of a woman’s work is still considered lesser than a man’s.

But why? It seems ridiculous that a person be treated as lesser than another because of a characterizing feature that the individual has no say in. This applies also to race, age, and ethnicity. We are not given an application to fill out before we are born where we get to choose what and who we are to be. We simply are who we are.

Though we are not given a choice on who we are to be, we are given a choice on how we treat others. Blackwell is correct. If society refuses to accept a person based on features that are unchangeable, rather than asking that person to change (which we have already concluded is not a possibility), society must change.

The reality is: society refuses to change.

It has become the norm to judge a person based on appearances. Racism continues to be as rampant now as it was back then.

Now how can such old issues continue to cause such controversy today? It is simple. We are still trying to change the unchangeable. Society is still treating woman as lesser, those with a different color skin continue to be viewed as outsiders, and older people are still regularly being replaced with younger faces.

It’s silly, isn’t it?

When we realize that trying to change what cannot be changed is a waste of our time, society will begin to progress. When we realize that discrimination and prejudice against people for characteristics that they have had no part in choosing is unfair and cruel, society will begin to flourish.

Society must recognize that the solution to our problems cannot be met with continuous isolation and hate, but rather with acceptance and love. We must stand by those who are being oppressed unjustly and recognize that we have the power to make a change.

Discrimination and prejudice are a manifestation of false ideas exposed to us by a misinformed society. By accepting one another for who we are despite our appearances and the stereotypes connected with them, we can finally begin to evolve into a society filled with unity and peace.

Elizabeth Blackwell was a brilliant woman who did not let the negativity and prejudice of society hinder her from achieving her dreams. Just as she used society as a motivation to succeed, that same society could have easily brought her down.

Let us focus less on the outer appearances and features of a person, and realize that the greatest assets of each individual remains in their minds and in their hearts.

Read other articles by Angela Tongohan