Louisville Medicine Volume 69, Issue 8 - Page 18

BOOK REVIEW
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able to secure a position to follow Dr . John Francis , attend lectures and be present at surgeries at the famous Bellevue Hospital . This was a very nice and enjoyable stint and she was able to get into the Rush Medical College in Chicago . However , after her first term concluded , the college trustees voted against granting her a medical degree . Fortunately , Cleveland Medical College of Western Reserve came to the rescue and offered Emily the position of a second-year student . She graduated in 1854 .
When Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman doctor in America in 1849 , the medical profession was in a sorry stage of evolution . The book gives accounts of the malpractice-like and egregious 19th century medical practices – blood-letting , purgatives , emetics , leeches and many other abhorrent techniques , sundry potions and therapies . There were essentially no affiliations with universities or collaboration with hospitals for clinical training . Medical education was in a truly sorry state with admissions in medical schools reserved for the ones who could afford to pay exorbitant tuitions to the owner physicians . Medical education consisted of two terms , 16 weeks each over two years with same material delivered as lectures . Between terms , both sisters worked with physicians and almshouse facilities to gain clinical exposure . Germ theory was more than a decade in the future . Sanitary conditions at the hospitals were atrocious . Hand-washing was non-existent ; physicians went from dissecting rooms to seeing patients and even delivering babies with resultant transmitted infections including puerperal fever with high morbidity and mortality . When Ignaz Semmelweis ( 1818-1965 ), a Hungarian physician , introduced handwashing and other antiseptic techniques in combating infections in Vienna in 1847 , he was severely rebuffed by the senior physicians .
Because of the lack of structured post graduate training , just like her male counterparts , Elizabeth went to Europe , primarily France and England . In Paris , she was able to procure a position as a trainee at the lowest level at the massive “ La Maternite ” where she worked tirelessly but had significant exposure to midwifery and a gynecologic case load . She was however barred from attending medical lectures ! Unfortunately , during delivery of an infant with gonorrheal conjunctivitis , she contracted the infection and after a protracted convalescence and after being subjected to “ horrendous barbarism ,” she lost her left eye permanently . Un-deterred by this terrible mishap , she went to London for further clinical training . She cultivated long-lasting friendships and acquaintances including with Florence Nightingale ( she visited her country house , Embley Park in Hampshire ) and many other London Society ladies including Lady Byron and Barbara Leigh Smith , a charismatic women ’ s rights leader . She rotated through Saint Bartholomew ’ s hospital under the mentorship of the famous Dr . James Paget . She had witnessed mesmerism , hydropathy and homeopathy being practiced . She then returned to New York and opened her clinic . There was however no welcome mat for the newly-minted first woman physician in the country and her practice was initially a failure . She then opened the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children .
After earning her medical degree , Emily travelled to Edinburgh and spent eight months with a talented and innovative Professor of Medicine and Midwifery at Edinburgh University , James Young Simpson ( he championed the use of chloroform as a general anesthetic in 1847 ). On her return to the U . S ., Emily joined her sister at their new facility which opened in May 1857 : The New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children . Emily became an accomplished surgeon , which Elizabeth could not do due to her partial blindness .
Elizabeth mentored a Polish / German immigrant , Marie Zakrzewska ( Dr . “ Zak ”) who was an experienced midwife in Berlin , but circumstances forced her immigration to the U . S . in 1853 . Fate brought her to the attention of Elizabeth who gave her a job in the dispensary . Elizabeth also arranged for her to be admitted at the Western Reserve University in Cleveland . After many logistic difficulties and rude behavior by some male students , Dr . Zak was able to earn her MD degree and came back to New York and worked with the Blackwell sisters at the infirmary . Dr . Zak was offered a job initially at the Boston Female Medical College and subsequently at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1862 .
As the capstone of their careers , the Blackwell sisters opened The Women ’ s Medical College of the New York Infirmary on Nov . 18 , 1868 . Elizabeth gave the inaugural speech at the opening ceremony .
Both sisters were abolitionists but had no desire to participate in the suffragist movement . It is interesting that one brother , Henry Blackwell , married the ardent suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stone , and another brother , Sam , wed Antoinette Brown , who was an ordained minister , the first female ordained minister in the U . S . Elizabeth departed to live the last 40 years of her life in England in the company of Kitty , an adopted Irish orphan who was a constant companion until Elizabeth ’ s death .
There are several other books worth reading regarding the Blackwell sisters and other siblings as well as other pioneering women who charted a course for the next generation of female doctors including Mary Putnam Jacobi , Anna Preston , Elizabeth Garrett Anderson , Sophia Jex-Blake and many others . Women in White Coats by Olivia Campbell ( Park Row Books , Toronto , Canada 2021 ) is an engrossing narrative of courageous young Victorian ladies who defied convention and doggedly pursued a medical degree despite discrimination and road blocks by the male medical hierarchy . Elizabeth ’ s autobiography - Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women ( Loki ’ s Publishing , Hastings 1895 ) documents her pioneering spirit and discusses the role she played in the U . S . and England for the singular purpose of promoting medical education for women . Julia Boyd , a journalist , authored a highly acclaimed exhaustive book titled The Life of the First Woman Physician - The Excellent Doctor Blackwell ( Sutton Publishing Limited , Phoenix Hill , England 2005 ), Elinor Rice Hays wrote a remarkable book about this amazing family titled Those Extraordinary Blackwells – The Story of a Journey to a Better World ( Harcourt , Brace & World , Inc , New York , 1967 ).
Nimura ’ s book is a beautifully and fluidly written and a thoroughly researched tome which is a riveting and engrossing narrative of the Blackwell Clan and history of that epoch .
Dr . Seyal practices cardiovascular Medicine at the Seyal Cardiology LLC in Clarksville , IN .
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