Who's Who in Asheville: Feminist Fast Track

Young Elizabeth Blackwell, Asheville ConnectionsOne Giant Step for all Woman Kind...

Asheville is known for our acceptance. We're the eccentric-crazy-fun aunt of the south. We love everyone and take anyone as they are. But was Asheville always like this? The happy truth is, yes! There were lots of people and states along the way who helped her along. Although her actual acceptance to med school was, literally, a joke. The first female doctor started her long and difficult journey to a doctorate in medicine in Asheville. This makes Asheville the eccentric-crazy-fun-feminist aunt of the United States. For your distinct reading and intellectual pleasure, we would like to briefly introduce you to Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell - the first female physician.

It's a Woman's World

The Blackwell's moved to America when Elizabeth was seven due to Mr. Samuel Blackwell moving his sugar refinery to New York. As a man of relative means Mr. Blackwell was capable of providing excellent education for his children. Fortunately for his five daughters, Samuel not only believed in equality in education, but in supporting all of his children to reach all their goals no matter how high. In later reminisces, Elizabeth would recall her relationship with her father prior to his death as warm and loving. When Elizabeth was fifteen they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and began their efforts to cultivate alternative sources of sugar (like sugar beet) to eliminate slavery. This gave Elizabeth a taste for social justice that would serve her well in years to come. Two years later, Samuel died unexpectedly and Elizabeth's education was left in her own hands.Elizabeth Blackwell, Asheville Connections, 2015
Elizabeth's decision to enroll in medical school almost never occurred. It came to her in two parts, the first part of her decision was made when a friend was dying of a very painful disease and remarked that she would have been more comfortable with treatment coming from a woman. The finalization of her choice came with her repulsion that the only doctors associated with women were abortionists (which were called "female physicians"). She found this particularly offensive because of the implications it had on what women were capable of achieving in the medical field. Her decision was only reinforced by her stance that a woman's maternal tendencies would make her superior to a man. Finally, a lifestyle that was sustainable without relying on a man was incredibly appealing to her.
Oddly enough, as she started her studies she was disgusted by "everything connected to the human body" and could barely stand to look at a medical book. Her sister, Anna, found her employment as a music teacher in Asheville. Fortunately, Elizabeth found lodging in the home of Reverend John Dickson. Even more fortunately, John Dickson was a physician who completely agreed with Elizabeth's views on women as doctors. After studying privately with several doctors, including Rev. Dickson and his brother, she applied to Hobart College. Because her application was so irregular, her acceptance was put to a vote with the medical class men. They assumed it was a joke and responded to it in what they thought was the appropriate manner, and unanimously voted to accept her. Elizabeth succeeded in becoming the first female licensed practitioner in the United States and was also recognized in Britain. Her younger sister, Emily became the third female licensed practitioner in the United States. On the side of the Wachovia Bank in on Patton Avenue there is a bronze memorial to her and the huge steps she made in medicine for women and children.

Elizabeth Blackwell Memorial, Asheville, NCToday's Present, Tomorrow's History

The most important thing to take out of Elizabeth's story is not necessarily the most obvious moral. Sometimes the right thing is staring us in the face, it gets dropped right on our door step, but that doesn't make it easy. At least three well-known doctors risked their professional reputations to further the goals, education, and career of a woman. Don't forget as you take your scenic walks through Asheville's mountains or downtown, look for your  moments. Whether they're easy or challenging, obvious or hidden, subtle or with immediate impact, you have the opportunity to make choices today that will create history tomorrow. I hope you find your choices, and when you do, I hope you make choices you are proud to look back on in years to come.

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