April 17, 1870
I don’t know why, but Dr. Van Helsing letters reminded me when I met Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell a few years after the end of the war, in November 1868. She was carrying out a plan that she’d developed in conjunction with Florence Nightingale in England: with her sister, Emily Blackwell, she opened the Women’s Medical College at the infirmary. She took the chair of hygiene herself.
It was a scandal, but I must admit I was very impressed. After one of her lectures which I had the opportunity to attend we had a brief conversation about her life and how she struggled to earn her position. After being rejected by all the leading schools to which she applied, her application arrived at Geneva Medical College at Geneva, New York, where the administration asked the students to decide whether to admit her or not. The students, reportedly believing it to be only a practical joke, endorsed her admission.
Unbelievable! She graduated first in her class in January, 1849, becoming thereby the first woman to graduate from medical school, the first woman doctor of medicine in the modern era. During her training at the midwives course at La Maternite in Paris she suffered a serious eye infection which left her blind in one eye, and she abandoned her plan to become a surgeon. Battle scars! She is at present working on her second book, The Religion of Health, soon to be published.
It was a brief but meaninful meeting. Her phrase “The idea of winning a doctor’s degree gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed immense attraction for me” still echoes in my mind especially when I hear that I’m too lazy or irresponsible to act as a respectable physician.
I must confess I’m not sure if I am willing to put “moral struggle” above other kinds of attraction, if you know what I mean… But another of her phrases “If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled” tempts me with the idea of helping a group of people to find their place among society.
Anyway, this memory must have influenced my decision to accept Dr. Van Helsing’s call.
Now, REPLY to Dr. Van Helsing.