forgottennewsmakers

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

ELIZABETH BLACKWELL (1821 – 1910) First Female Doctor

In American History, Doctors, Feminists, History, People from England, Victorian Women on October 13, 2010 at 5:13 PM

 

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell’s parents were Quakers.  They believed in equality and educated their sons and daughters equally.  So, when Blackwell decided to be a doctor, her family was totally supportive.  Convincing the rest of the world, however, was not so easy. 

Blackwell was ten when her family moved from England to New York.  When her father’s business failed, they move to Cincinnati.  Shortly after settling  there her father died, leaving the family without income.

Blackwell became a teacher, but she didn’t find it intellectually stimulating enough.  When her girlfriend, Mary Donaldson, got cancer she believed that her suffering would have been less if she could have been treated by a woman doctor.  Donaldson tried to convince Blackwell that she had the intellect and personality to be a great doctor.  As a student, Blackwell was not interested in the sciences, preferring metaphysics and history.  But, her friend’s request haunted her, and she decided to go for it. 

GETTING INTO MEDICAL SCHOOL          Blackwell’s first course of action was to write letters to several physicians to solicit their advice about applying to med school.  All six contacts advised her to give up the idea as it was impossible for a woman to get a medical education.  Dr. Joseph Warrington said in a letter, “Elizabeth, it is of no use trying. Thee cannot gain admission to these schools. Thee must go to Paris and don masculine attire to gain the necessary knowledge.”1  Blackwell was not discouraged.  While she worked as a governess for Dr. John Dixon, of Ashville, North Carolina, she started educating herself in science and classical languages by reading the books in his library. She moved to South Carolina, supported herself by teaching music lessons, and continued her homeschooling from the library of Dixon’s brother.

With a solid background and determination, Blackwell applied to 13 medical schools.  She was rejected outright from every one of them because she was a woman.  This discrimination was foreign to her egalitarian upbringing.  Finally, the faculty of Geneva College in upstate New York (now Hobart College) asked the students to decide Blackwell’s fate.  They unanimously agreed to admit her because they thought her application was a joke.    

In 1846, Blackwell matriculated, and she graduated two years later, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.  Eventually she won over her fellow students by her intelligence and commitment, but she was shunned by the citizens of Geneva who believed her career choice was very inappropriate. 

On January 23, 1849, the same ladies who were rude to Blackwell had a change of heart with her success.  They packed the Presbyterian Church to witness her historic accomplishment, applauding enthusiastically when she received her diploma.  During the ceremony, Charles Lee, Dean of Geneva Medical College, expressed his respect for the first female medical graduate, but in the program he added a footnote that said he supported medical training for qualified women, but the “inconveniences attending the admission of females to all the lectures in a medical school, are so great, that he will feel compelled on all future occasions to oppose such a practice …”2  Her success was inspiring to other women, however, and within three years of her graduation, twenty women completed medical training at various colleges. 

WHAT’S A GIRL TO DO…WITH A MEDICAL DEGREE?    After graduation, Blackwell planned to spend a few months in Philadelphia, studying personally with a Dr. Bryan, and then go to Paris and eventually return to New York to establish her practice where she could expect to earn six thousand dollars a year.

After some time in London studying at a hospital, Blackwell did go to Paris.  The only opportunity open to her there was to train to become a midwife.   While she was in Paris she contracted “purulent opthalmia” and lost the sight in one eye.  This forced her to abandon her dream of becoming a surgeon.

In 1851 she returned to New York City and at age 30 tried to set up her own practice.  People were hesitant trust her as a doctor, so she had to consider another options.  She opened a dispensary to give out-patient treatment to poor women and children.  In this setting, she wasn’t able to accomplish as much as she hoped, so in 1957 she closed the dispensary and opened a hospital, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children (now the New York University Downtown Hospital).  Her partners were two recent medical school graduates: her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell, and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. 

Even though Blackwell was a busy professional woman, something was missing from her life.  She was never interested in marriage, but she adopted an orphan girl named Katherine “Kitty” Barry.  Blackwell and her daughter made periodic trips to England, and she also made history there.  In 1859 while in London, she was the first woman to have her name entered into the Medical Register of the United Kingdom. 

HELPING OTHER WOMEN FOLLOW IN HER FOOTSTEPS       Back in the States, when the Civil War broke out, Blackwell helped create the Women’s Central Association of Relief, training nurses to treat the wounded soldiers.  Her work at the hospital was going well, but she was committed to opening a medical college for women.  In 1868 Blackwell founded The Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary to provide training for female medical and nursing students.  Blackwell was the Professor of Hygiene, and Emily was the Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women. 

In 1869, Blackwell left Emily in charge, and she and Kitty returned to England where they lived for the rest of Blackwell’s life.  She helped to create the National Health Society, established a private practice and taught gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Women, which she helped to found, and the London School of Medicine for Children. 

In addition to the demands of a pioneering, practicing doctor, Blackwell found the time to write six books focusing on hygiene, the medical treatment for women, raising healthy children, and her autobiography.

On May 31, 1910, Blackwell, 89 years old, died in Hastings, England.  She was buried in Kilmun, in the Highlands of Scotland, one of her favorite places on earth.

QUESTION:  Have you ever done something that most people thought was wrong but that you knew was right for you?  Was it easy or hard?  Were you successful?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

1 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/blackwell/admission.html

2 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/blackwell/graduation.html

http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/medicine/a/blackwell_emin.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Blackwell

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_and_William_Smith_Colleges

http://campus.hws.edu/his/blackwell/articles/oldnews.html

http://library.hws.edu/archives/pdfs/tripp.pdf

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mcc:@sum(@field(OTHER+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+))+@field(SUBJ+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+)))

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mcc:@sum(@field(OTHER+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+))+@field(SUBJ+@band(Blackwell,+Elizabeth++1821+1910+)))

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_35.html

Elizabeth Blackwell’s autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women, published in 1895, is out of print.  I could not find it anywhere online or  in any local libraries.

Advertisements

MARY SEACOLE (1805 – 1881) Nurse and Businesswoman

In Biography, Crimean War, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Florence Nightingale, History, Nurses, People, People from England, Trivia, Woman on August 16, 2010 at 10:37 AM

 

Mary Seacole in watercolor at about 45 years old

Mary Seacole believed that when someone wants to minister to the needs of others, she should be able to do so without interference.  So when she was headed to Crimea during the war to help Florence Nightingale nurse sick and wounded soldiers, she was determined not to let racism deter her from her mission. 

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Mary Ann Grant’s father was a Scotch army officer. Her mother was a local healer who owned a boarding house and treated military officers and their families.  That didn’t seem to be a place for a child, so Seacole lived with an older lady and her grandchildren.  She often hung out with her mom, however, and played doctor with her dolls and the neighborhood pets. 

When her nanny died in her arms, Seacole moved back in with her mother and learned her Creole medicine techniques.  As her life unfolded, it’s evident that Seacole derived her greatest inspiration from that relationship.

Seacole remained single until she was 31 years old when she married Edwin Seacole, a Brit.  They opened a store in Black River, Jamaica, but after eight years of marriage they had to move back to Kingston for Edwin’s health.  He died one month after their return.  To compound Seacole’s grief, her mom died, and she assumed responsibility for the hotel, using work to cope with her loneliness.

Seacole’s stubbornness was one of her best and worst qualities.  In 1843 there was a devastating fire in Kingston which burned down Seacole’s house.  Defending it almost cost her her life because she didn’t leave until it was in flames.  She rebuilt and continued to live alone despite many potential suitors.  A cholera outbreak in 1850 gave her the opportunity to practice the healing skills she had learned.

FOLLOWING IN HER MOTHER’S FOOTSTEPS       Finally needing a change, Seacole went to Cruces, Panama to visit her brother.  Her experience had prepared her well to deal with the cholera epidemic that hit shortly after she arrived.  The only medically trained person who lived in the area was a dentist, so it was left to Seacole to diagnose and treat the afflicted.  She did save many patients, but the number who died was still devastating.  The most difficult death for her to deal with was an infant who died in her arms.  Seacole snuck to the gravesite of the baby before it was buried and conducted her own autopsy in order to learn more about the disease. 

Seacole opened a restaurant where the Americans loved to hang out and drink copious amounts of tea and coffee.  She took her brother’s advice to add a spoonful of salt after the sixth cup to curtail their intake.  After a while she got bored and decided to return to Kingston.

She bought a ticket on an American steamer, but because she was Creole she was told to get off the ship.  This was the first time she personally experienced blatant racism.   In order to keep the peace, the captain gave Seacole her money back, and she agreed to get disembark.  Two days later she traveled home on an English ship.

DETOURS ON THE ROAD TO HER DREAMS           When she was 49 years old Seacole’s restless, adventuresome spirit took her to England, and she landed in London in 1854.  The Crimean War was young, and she wanted to contribute her talents.  She applied to the War Office to be a hospital nurse.  She was rejected and told to apply to the medical department.  That was also a dead end, so she changed her tack.  She craftily found out the address of the Secretary-at-War, went to his house and waited patiently to speak to him.  When he did deign to see her, the Secretary said there were no nursing positions available.  Finally, she applied to the managers of the Crimean Fund to do anything that would get her to the war zone.  Even that didn’t work.  The obvious racial prejudice with which she was treated made her even more determined.

Seacole had one more option.  She and Thomas Day, a relative of her husband, created a partnership, Seacole and Day.  They planned to open a store and hotel in the area near the military camps in Balaclava on the coast of the Crimea, a peninsula at the southern part of modern-day Ukraine.  

FULFILLING HER DESTINY                                         En route from England, Seacole’s ship had a layover in Scutari, Turkey for one night.  She needed a place to sleep and wanted to be of service as well.  Florence Nightingale worked at a hospital there.  Seacole had a letter of introduction from a friend in Kingston to give to Nightingale.  When she was finally ushered in to meet Nightingale, she was not exactly embraced as a colleague.  Nightingale suggested that the only available bed was next to the washerwoman.  Seacole and her roommate got along great and talked for hours.  The bed itself was less accommodating as it turned out to be a flea infested couch, and Seacole was eaten alive during the night. 

In Balaclava, Seacole and Day built the British Hotel which included an apartment for each of the partners, a general store and stables for the animals.  A war zone is a dangerous place even for civilians.  Thieves, led by the night watchman, stole 40 goats and seven sheep during one night, and dozens of horses, mules, pigs and chickens over time.  The rats were huge and one attacked a cook while she was sleeping.  But none of this deterred the proprietress from her purpose: to serve the British army.

“Mother Seacole” was not shy about going to the front lines if necessary to tend to wounded soldiers.  The allied army planned to attack the Russians  at Cathcart’s Hill.  Seacole made sandwiches, packed up food, drink and medical supplies and on horseback led a caravan of two pack mules up the hill to the camp three and a half miles away.  She cared for their physical needs in as many ways as possible.  Since water was in short supply, she had to wash her hands in sherry. When bullets whizzed by overhead, Seacole hugged the ground until she got the “all clear.”  Once when she was protecting herself, she dislocated her thumb, which she never bothered to set.   

Seacole didn’t discriminate when it came to helping the needy.  In addition to British soldiers, she helped French, Sardinians and even some Russians into ambulances so they could get proper medical treatment.  One Russian thanked her by taking off his ring and giving it to her as he was being lifted into the vehicle.

LIFE AFTER WAR                                                             It was both a positive and negative thing when the Crimean War ended in February 1856.  The area was evacuated so fast, that Seacole and Day lost all their business virtually overnight. Russians raided the British Hotel which made Seacole furious.  In a desperate act, she smashed the crates of wine, wasting it instead of letting the enemy enjoy their booty. 

Upon returning to England Seacole and Day were forced to declare bankruptcy, and the war finally took its toll on Seacole’s health.  Several prominent people contributed to funds to help Seacole and her partner become solvent.  She wrote her autobiography describing her adventures and raised enough money to get out of debt.  During the final years of her life she worked in London as a masseuse and confidant to members of the royal family.  Seacole died in 1881 with an estate of over £2,500.

QUESTION:  Have you ever been discriminated against?  How did you handle the situation?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Seacole, Mary.  The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. http://www.gutenberg.org/ catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=588279

http://www.maryseacole.com/maryseacole/pages/aboutmary.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:March_to_Sevastopol_1854.png

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Seacole

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimean_War

MANUELA SÁENZ (1797-1856) Simon Bolivar’s Mistress and Political Rebel

In Biography, Dictators, Feminists, History, Simon Bolivar, South American history, Trivia, Uncategorized on July 26, 2010 at 9:49 PM

Watercolor of Manuel Saenz wearing the Order of the Sun Medal

Manuela Sáenz would learn very early in her life that marriage was not as important as love.  Her mother, Joaquina Aizpuru, was not married when she became pregnant with Sáenz, the result of an affair with a family acquaintance in a higher social class.  To avoid the humiliation of such bad judgment, Aizpuru was sent away to keep her pregnancy secret, and forced to relinquish her daughter to the care of nuns in a convent in Quito.  She died by the time Sáenz was seven.  Simón Sáenz de Vergara was a wealthy businessman and successful politician with a wife and six children.  A scandal could have ruined his life, but to his credit, he acknowledged Sáenz, paid the one thousand-peso dowry for his daughter to be given a proper upbringing in the convent, and introduced her to his legitimate children, giving her life some family context.

Sáenz’s father took responsibility for his daughter’s future by arranging a marriage to a much older, wealthy Englishman, and the newlyweds moved to Lima.  As a young wife, Sáenz socialized with Peru’s social, political and military elite.  She became sympathetic to the rebel cause, and against her husband’s orders, she joined the patriots to liberate Peru from the tyranny of Spain.  For her involvement, Sáenz received the Order of the Sun, an award given to those who made an exceptional contribution to the campaign.

Her appetite for political adventure having been whetted, Sáenz left her husband and moved back to Quito in 1822. She unapologetically abandoned her marriage in a time when women had few options in life.  There Sáenz met Simon Bolivar, “El Libertador” of South America. 

Back in her hometown, Sáenz again immersed herself in the independence movement.   Bolivar was to parade through town to celebrate victory in the battle that gave Quito independence.  On a fateful day, Sáenz’s participation was not militant.  She had the decidedly female job of beautifying the homes along the parade route to make a good impression on the esteemed soldier.  That evening, the two met at a reception and began their legendary love affair.

FOLLOWING HER HEART        At first, Sáenz was assumed to be another notch on the belt of a great womanizer.  As scandalous as their affair was, the couple had an immediate deep, passionate connection.  When Bolivar left Quito, Sáenz did not retreat back to her family, or even her marriage, as a spurned lover.  She followed him and integrated herself into his life.

Sáenz and Bolivar’s romantic partnership could not be distinguished from their political alliance. She became the official keeper of Bolivar’s personal archive, guarding his private papers and personally maintaining the secrecy of the army’s military strategy.  Her commitment to the cause superseded any fear she may have had of battle.  Sáenz organized troops and rescued and nursed those injured on the battlefield.  In one letter to Bolivar, Colombian General Antonio José de Sucre called Sáenz a hero for her contribution in the Battle of Ayacucho, and he recommended that Bolivar make her a Colonel of the Colombian army, which he did.  This appointment was so controversial because Sáenz was a woman that, in an irate letter to Bolivar, Colombian Vice-President Francisco Paula de Santander accused him of nepotism.  But Bolivar defended the bravery that earned Sáenz the recognition.

WHAT SHE DID FOR LOVE       When the wars for independence were over, Sáenz was 29, and she moved into Bolivar’s official residence.  She was well known as his mistress, but her influence extended beyond the personal to the role of gatekeeper for those wanting to meet with Bolivar.  And she didn’t need permission to act on his behalf.  In 1827 in Lima, the conditions for the troops were so bad that the army officers threatened a rebellion that would totally undermine the new constitution that Bolivar had established.  While Bolivar was away, Sáenz visited the soldiers wearing a colonel’s uniform and contributed money for food to dissuade them from being influenced by rebels with an ulterior political agenda.  She was rewarded for her initiative by being arrested and expelled from Peru, but her commitment to Bolivar’s cause never wavered. 

Sáenz not only dedicated herself to Bolivar’s political mission, but she was directly responsible for saving his life on at least two occasions.  In August 1928 Bolivar was to attend a party that Sáenz was not invited to.  She had received word that at midnight he would be assassinated, and she begged him to skip the event.  He ignored her warnings thinking she was just jealous at not being on the guest list.  At about 11:00, Sáenz showed up wearing a military uniform, but she was denied entry by the guard who turned out to be one of the conspirators.  She made another desperate attempt to preempt the assassination attempt by dressing up in dirty rags like an old crazy woman.  She positioned herself outside and yelled, “Que viva el Libertador!” (“Long live the Liberator!”)  Sáenz’s behavior was becoming an embarrassment to Bolivar, so he left the party to reprimand her.  At midnight, when the conspirators came to kill him, Bolivar was gone. 

Six weeks later, the couple was at home when Bolivar’s enemies entered the house with the same goal.  Sáenz ran to the sleeping man, supplied him with a sword and gun and forced him to jump out the window.  Bolivar resisted, instinctively wanting to stay and fight, but finally he trusted her judgment and left.  When the would-be assassins confronted her, she said legitimately that she didn’t know where he was, and he successfully escaped.  For this heroic effort, Bolivar called her “Libertadora del Libertador” (“Liberator of the Liberator”). 

Bolivar was a hero for emancipating South America from Spanish rule, but there was trouble in determining the governments.  Bolivar proclaimed himself as the dictator of the Gran Colombia in August 1828 in an effort to save the unified republic he fought so hard to establish and maintain his leadership. That did not appease the insurgents in Venezuela and Ecuador.  In 1830 he resigned and prepared to flee to Europe in self-imposed exile.  He died of tuberculosis in Columbia before he could leave. 

A REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE   Sáenz’s association with Bolivar did not endear her to the incoming leaders, and she was exiled to Jamaica three years later.  Even from a distance, she attempted to stay involved in the political process of establishing the boundaries between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru through correspondence.  Over time, however, she became increasingly less relevant. 

Her final years were in stark contrast to the heady adventures with Bolivar.  After an attempt to return to Ecuador was refused, Sáenz settled in a port city in northern Peru, selling tobacco and translating letters for North American whalers to send to their lovers in Latin America.  She fell when the termite-eaten stairs of her home collapsed and became permanently disabled.  In 1856, at 59 years old, Sáenz died during a diphtheria epidemic and was buried anonymously in a mass grave.

Sáenz was eventually given proper respect for her role in South America’s liberation from Spain.  On July 5, 2010 symbolic remains of her body along with soil from her original grave were reinterred next to the tomb of her lover and compatriot, Simon Bolivar.  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa presided over the ceremony at the National Pantheon in Caracas, Venezuela.

QUESTION:  What is the craziest or most daring thing you’ve done to show your love for someone?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/7.1/foote.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuela_S%C3%A1enz

http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/liberators/saenz.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sim%C3%B3n_Bol%C3%ADvar

http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=94055

Murray, Pamela S. For Glory and Bolivar, The Remarkable Life of Manuela Sáenz                      http://books.google.com/books