The country’s first female doctor, who started a hospital for women and children in downtown Manhattan in the 19th century, was commemorated Monday by Greenwich Village residents.
Elizabeth Blackwell attended a medical school in upstate New York, becoming the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree in 1849. She and her sister Emily, who was the third woman in the country to become a doctor, then founded the first women’s hospital, New York Infirmary for Women and Children, on Bleecker and Crosby streets in 1857.
“Blackwell transformed medicine, its practice, its standards of education and how it was taught,” Betty Bayer, a professor of women’s studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, said in a statement.
While the Blackwells were from England, New York was where they had her first success, said Jennifer Weintraub, a digital librarian at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s Schlesinger Library.
“There were a lot of poor people who did not have medical care,” Weintraub said. “It’s unfortunate, but it gave them an opportunity.”
The sisters, along with a woman named Marie Zakrzewska, ran the hospital, providing free services to the largely immigrant community. The Blackwells also established a women’s medical college adjacent to the hospital and began teaching other women in 1868. The college was later incorporated into Cornell’s medical school when it began accepting women in 1899, Weintraub said.
The building where the hospital was founded still stands on the corner of Bleecker and Crosby streets, though its bottom level is now the Bleecker Street Bar. The New York Infirmary for Women and Children eventually moved locations and merged with other institutions to become the current New York-Presbyterian / Lower Manhattan Hospital.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation installed a plaque on Monday to recognize the site’s history. The plaque is the 12th the group has installed around Greenwich Village, the East Village and NoHo, as part of its historic plaque program.
Carey Bloomfield, the Blackwell’s great-great niece, who was at the unveiling, said she was “delighted” that Elizabeth was honored, adding that her great-great aunt was a “very progressive lady” who was “focused on providing service to others.”