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The first woman in medical school was admitted as a joke

Courtesy of Library of Congress

When the all-male student body voted Elizabeth Blackwell in as a joke, they didn't realize they'd be opening the door for her groundbreaking career as the first female doctor in the US.

Elizabeth Blackwell's story of becoming a doctor, traced by Dr. Howard Markel at PBS, started off rough. Medical schools in Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York all rejected her. She applied to Geneva Medical School in upstate New York where the dean was skeptical of admitting a woman — and ultimately let his student body of 150 men vote on it.

Courtesy of The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University

If even one student voted no, the dean said, Blackwell wouldn't get in. They thought it was a joke, and voted her in unanimously.

She had to convince her reproductive anatomy lecturer to let her stay in the class, because he thought it too "unrefined" a topic for a lady's "delicate sensibilities." But she did, and she finished her degree in the year and a half of schooling that was standard for medical education then.

Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College at age 28, becoming the first woman to graduate from medical school in the US. When Blackwell accepted her medical school diploma, the dean stood up and bowed toward her.

Blackwell spent the rest of her life challenging the status quo that almost kept her from college. She established her own private practice in New York City, and opened clinics there for poor and indigent women and children.

She became the first woman ever listed on the British Medical Register, the list of licensed doctors in the country. In the late 1860s, Blackwell created a medical school for women, the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary. Soon after, she returned to England, setting up a private practice in London and lecturing at the London School of Medicine for Women.

H/T PBS Newshour