Elizabeth Blackwell

Dissertation on Typhoid Fever and progressive work

Contributed by: Brandon Webster



Animals, Europe, Field, Historical figure, Medicine, North America, Observational, Organismal biology, Physiology, Social justice, Urban, Woman



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I used this article to read parts of her dissertation: Works Cited Sanes, Samuel. “Elizabeth Blackwell: Her First Medical Publication.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 16, 1944, pp. 83. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/docview/1296292990?accountid=12598.

and this web article for other information: https://www.famousscientists.org/elizabeth-blackwell/



Slide 1: Researcher’s Background

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States in 1849. She published her dissertation on typhoid fever but is best known for founding important institutions in New York and public speaking in Europe were she championed social welfare for all classes of people. 

Biography in brief

Elizabeth Blackwell certainly faced many obstacles throughout her life. In the 1840s women were not recognized as possible practitioners of formal medicine. On her way to getting a medical degree she was denied many times at admissions but finally prevailed. Her post degree career is marked by a marked concern for people living in poverty.  She founded medical practices in New York and London. 

Is (or was) their research under-valued because of their identity?

Yes. As the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States states she was literally the first person to break through many systemic barriers against white women at the time.

Are there other scientists/research examples that this example can replace or be added to?

I think this example is important because it represents a milestone in woman’s rights and role in society. 


Slide 2: Research Overview

Take home message of study

Elizabeth Blackwell wrote her dissertation based on her work at a charity hospital in Philadelphia shortly after the Irish Potato Famine were they often treated immigrants from Ireland. Her writing focused on drawing connections between the typhoid fever in Ireland and the same sickness some immigrants had. She graduated in the top of her class. Her writing championed better living conditions(i.e. sanitation and nutrition) as a way to prevent disease. It is also notable for an empathetic tone and social equity concerns. A theme that will be consistent throughout her life as she will later found the first medical college for women in the United States and go on public speaking tours in Europe in addition to actively practicing medicine. 

Study system

This image is an illustration of the Woman’s Medical College of New York Infirmary anatomy course in 1870. The medical college was founded by Elizabeth Blackwell and ran from 1868 to 1899. It closed when Cornell University first began to accept women students into their medical program. 


Slide 3: Key Research Points

Main figure

This is a quote from her writing as a student in the Buffalo Medical Journal that connects “Ship Fever” which was what they called emigrants with typhoid fever. It also outlines her feelings on social welfare. I selected this quote because one it illustrates her holistic view on public health. Essentially, she is saying that the Ship Fever epidemic (which was really typhus) is exacerbated by the poor living conditions that the lower classes are forced to live in because a lot of impoverished Irish people were fleeing their home country due to the Irish Potato Famine.  At the time I think this represents a fairly unique way of looking at public health and is noted for having a more empathetic tone. 


Societal Relevance

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to be granted a medical degree in the United States and as such represents a watershed moment for a shift in the institutional mindset about women’s rights. It is also noted how she paved the way for more women to learn medicine by founding a college to lift others. 


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