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The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,466 ratings  ·  281 reviews
Elizabeth Blackwell believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of "ordinary" womanhood. Though the world at first recoiled at the notion of a woman studying medicine, her intelligence and intensity ultimately won her the acceptance of the male medical establishment. In 1849, she became the first woman in America to receive an M.D. She w ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published January 19th 2021 by W. W. Norton Company
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The Library Lady
I first read about Elizabeth Blackwell in one of those reverent old fashioned kids biographies, long ago, so I was fascinated to read Blackwell's real story. Nimura has done her research well, and I learned a lot about Blackwell that the kid biographies leave out--mainly that she really wasn't that drawn to medicine and didn't practice it that much. It was the idea of a woman becoming a doctor that appealed to her. Nor was she a suffragette, she seems to have felt that they should focus on activ ...more
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
While the focus of this book is on the two Blackwell sisters who became the first women to receive medical degrees in the United States, it also touches on a lot of what was going on in their world, nineteenth-century United States and Europe. The reader will meet many of the movers and shakers of that era and come away with a real feel for the challenges an intellectual woman faced in that time. The Blackwell family moved from Bristol in England to New York in the early nineteenth century. The ...more
Sally Stieglitz
Nov 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What distinguishes this book from other non-fiction historical accounts is the marriage of readability and meticulous documentation. The author manages deft storytelling to make the reader wonder, "how will this ever work out," a neat trick when the outline of the sisters' achievements is well known. Bonus: the Blackwell family and acquaintances feel like an intellectual movers and shakers list from the antebellum American north and Europe...names are dropped! We see you Florence Nightingale! ...more
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
This is a rather heavy, dense tome. Well researched I’m sure but not written in a reader-friendly way, at least not for me.

Having just recently read “They dared to be Doctors: Elizabeth Blackwell & Elizabeth Garrett Anderson” by Mary St. J. Fancourt I didn’t find anything in “The Doctors Blackwell” of any great interest that I didn’t know before.

Of course it could be that I am not in the mood for anything too hefty at the moment.

When I say I did not ‘finish’ the book it means that I skipped aro
Maureen Caupp
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting and well researched. I appreciate that it doesn't just idolize Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, but shows their lives and traits. Both sisters were determined pioneers, and I admire their determination and persistence. Medical school after medical school rejected both, but they kept looking for individuals that would let them learn and grant them a diploma. At the same, Elizabeth in particular wasn't that interested in medicine, she just wanted to prove that women could do it. She neve ...more
Krisette Spangler
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I'm not sure why some reviewers felt this book was dry. It was great. I loved reading about the Blackwell sisters and their struggle to become doctors. The sisters themselves weren't really warm fuzzy people, but the backdrop of women's rights history in America and Europe was very compelling. It was also horrifying to read the accounts of medical doctors in the 1850's. I think you were mostly better off trying to get better on your own at home. I have a lot of admiration for these women pioneer ...more
Mar 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating look at medicine in the U.S. and Europe in the 1840's to the 20th century. Without these two amazing women blazing the trail, who knows how long it may have taken for the world to accept female doctors! They were indomitable even though the roadblocks they encountered at every stage of their careers were outrageous. How wonderful for Ms. Nimura to bring to everyone's notice how courageous these women were and what a huge impact they had on medicine and on women as well! A ...more
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
I found THE DOCTORS BLACKWELL to be a very well written book. The author did her job well. This book was also entertaining and will be enjoyed by females everywhere!
Feb 20, 2021 rated it liked it
I rate this book a low-ish three stars, unfortunately drawn low not by the writing but by the truly unpleasant nature of one of its subjects.
I am a strong believer in women’s equality, and it is obvious that someone had to plough her way through the roadblocks long placed by the patriarchs in control of society. Elizabeth Blackwell was that breaker of roadblocks: first woman to earn a medical degree in the US, first woman registered as a physician in Britain. Yet - she was persistent yet persis
Feb 11, 2021 rated it liked it
This was just ok. It was a very interesting topic but the writing was a little dry.
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The odds are decent that you have never heard of Elizabeth & Emily Blackwell. Good news! This is the book for you.

Author Janice Nimura gives us a compelling and approachable biography of the Blackwell sisters--or rather, two of the Blackwell sisters, Elizabeth and Emily.
When events take a tragic turn, the Blackwell siblings realize they must take charge of their financial security. They start their own school, educate their younger siblings, disperse to find employment, and eventually find a way
Jan 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, and am ASHAMED to admit that I had absolutely zero idea who Emily Blackwell was. After reading this, *she* is the more interesting sister to me (and more sympathetic), even though 4-years-older Elizabeth was the first trailblazer.

LOVE that Elizabeth got her medical degree at Geneva Medical School (what is now Hobart and William Smith College, and about 20 minutes from where I grew up!) but it was absolutely obnoxious and absurd that the same medical school who (grudg
Apr 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer, as they say on NPR. I've known the author since she was eight years old. I was nominally a babysitter (ha!!!) but it was more like she was my tutor. I tried to read her latest work without bias and think I more than succeeded. Do I really know this historian who can craft such beautiful sentences? For a time whenever I turned on the radio or opened the paper (or New Yorker) I got to hear/read about her latest work. Around the same time I finally opened my beautiful hard cover a frien ...more
Martha Anne Toll
Here’s my review for NPR Books ...more
Mar 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, and especially the author’s exploration of WOMEN’S role in holding back women.
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I found this book quite fascinating and was interested to learn more of the Blackwell sisters. I knew of Elizabeth Blackwell, but not of her sister Emily. The story took us from their beginnings straight through their lives. The author told their history and did a wonderful job interspersing journal entries and pieces of letters into the manuscript. I am personally intrigued by the journey that women took in the early days of medicine.

This book is not for the faint of heart and some reader’s may
Dec 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was everything you want in a biography. Extensively researched and well-written, the history of the Blackwells, and 19th century medicine as whole, is presented in an extremely readable fashion. The narrative weaves together many big names of the times, deftly discusses the intersections of the women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements, and provides a compassionate, though unvarnished, history of these first woman MDs.

While the accomplishments of the Blackwells sisters are impressive, Ni
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I saw a review of this book and I knew I wanted to read it. Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell were such pioneering women. Elizabeth became the first woman doctor in America in 1849. Her younger sister Emily followed her some years later. They face so many obstacles in their long path forward. Reading about some of the procedures that were used at the time was hard to see how they could believe that would work. Medicine has certainly come a long way. Elizabeth had very difficult climb to earn her deg ...more
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
The lives of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell were described in this book, along with the other members of their family including sister Anna and brothers. Elizabeth was the first to attempt to go to medical school, and while she succeeded, it was not an easy journey. Later her younger sister Emily was also able to attend medical school.

Emily had the greater instinct and desire to actually teach in her own Medical School and to attend to patients there. But before either Blackwell sister was able t
Deb Carlson
Apr 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A remarkable story about these pioneering sisters who were determined, Bright, strong and visionary. This well researched book opened a window to a time in History where these women were making great strides, empowering themselves and others in the world of medicine plus providing health care for women while facing many challenges and obstacles. The Blackwell family letters are rich and fascinating.
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book after hearing the author on NPR and was intrigued. Everyone knows that Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the US to get a doctor’s degree but very few know know of her sister Emily who was also a doctor. The two were both unusual women especially for their times. The difficulties of entering medical school and then getting to practice were very great. This is their real stories.
Feb 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
A good biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the U.S., and her sister Emily, who also became a doctor. The history and story a good read, but Elizabeth Blackwell comes across as quite the snob.
Stephanie McMillan
May 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
I have a complicated relationship with this book. The more I sit on it, the more I appreciate it but it was not what I expected going in and I'm coming to terms with that.

I picked this up because I was interested in learning more about Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell and their careers as some of the first female physicians in the United States. What I found was that I didn't like Elizabeth or Emily very much and I expected to count them among my role models. Elizabeth particularly, was never trul
Julia Klarman litwiller
It was close to a 4 but not quite close enough to round up. I'm sure it's difficult to write a book like this and make it not sound like text book but it very much read like that for at least the second half of the book. It was pretty interesting to learn about the history of the suffragists and how early they started their cause. Also they touched on Elizabeth starting her professional life the same time as Florence Nightingale which was pretty interesting by contrast. ...more
Jun 15, 2021 rated it liked it
Like the women themselves, this book is rather dry but interesting. It follows the course of the Blackwell sister's lives. Some of their thinking seems rather odd today, but their determination to become physicians was quite admirable. I knew very little about these women before reading the book, and found their story interesting. ...more
Feb 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Interesting facts but it certainly covered a ton of material.
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Triumph of single-minded determination, passionate idealism, and personal sacrifice

It is hard to imagine the enormity of the obstacles that Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell overcame throughout their lifetimes. In the mid-nineteenth century, women were meant to follow the traditional path and stay home caring for children and family. Viewed as pitiable, undesirable, contemptible, even dangerous, women who wished to follow non-traditional paths endured skepticism and outright hostility at every turn.
Feb 15, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviews
This was an interesting insight into the first female doctors in America, and how they reached that achievement, however, this novel fell short for me in some areas.

I mostly enjoyed this novel, and the main subject of the novel, Elizabeth Blackwell, was interesting. I was a bit disappointed to learn that she wasn’t very interested in being a doctor, rather she was interested in achieving the goal. However, I did admire her determination and will in becoming a doctor, especially during the time i
Johanna Markson
Mar 26, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Doctors Blackwell
How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Women to Medicine - and Medicine to Women, Janice P. Nimura
A meticulously researched book about two trailblazing sisters who broke the mold. When Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell decided to become doctors in the 1840s and 1850s, no obstacles were going to dissuade them, including the fact that no woman had ever been admitted to a medical college in America. Eventually, Elizabeth, in 1849, became the first female to graduate medical school in t
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Janice P. Nimura received a Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of her work on The Doctors Blackwell. Her previous book, Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back, was a New York Times Notable book in 2015. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, ...more

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