Elizabeth Blackwell, First Female Doctor in US, to Be Honored in Greenwich Village

Blackwell and her sister started the first woman’s hospital in NYC.
Photo credit: Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation/Harry BubbinsPhoto credit: Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation/Harry Bubbins
May 10, 2018
By Nicole Brown

The country’s first female doctor, who started a hospital for women and children in downtown Manhattan in the 19th century, will be 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.

Elizabeth Blackwell was a “very progressive lady” who was “focused on providing service to others,” said Carey Bloomfield, the Blackwell’s great-great niece.

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.

The building 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 New York-Presbyterian / Lower Manhattan Hospital.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation will install 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.

Bloomfield, who will be at the unveiling, said she is “delighted” Elizabeth will be honored, adding that she has never seen the site of the former hospital in person.

“It will be fun to see the actual building where she started the clinic,” she said.

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