I believe we all need a little bit of conversation-starting knowledge. You know what I mean–the kind you can throw out at a cocktail party or when you’re stuck in one of a million kinds of awkward situations. It’s not useless the kind, but the type that makes people say “oh really?”  March is Women’s History Month and there’s plenty to know about the role of women in medicine, in the care of women and babies and how these pioneers helped shape today’s medical landscape for women.

Not surprisingly, most women began the role of caregiver as nurses–quietly and patiently caring for patients under the direction of men. But even before the white caps and restricted bedside roles that kept women from assuming a role of authority, they were doing it anyway. As far back as 2700 B.C. Egyptian women transcribed their titles as “chief physician” in some cases. Oh–is that too far back? Okay. Let’s go more recent. Here’s a few interesting stats to scratch down on your drink napkin for later:

  • Elizabeth Blackwell, MD (1821-1910) is considered as the first female physician in the United States. Facing significant difficulty, Blackwell was told to dress up as a man or change her identity to attend medical school. She never did, and was finally accepted to Geneva Medical College in upstate New York in 1847.
  • Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD (1831-1895) was the first African American woman to earn a medical degree. Crumpler graduated from New England Female Medical College after 8 years working as a nurse. Her only publication “Book of Medical Discourses” was published in 1883 and proves she was the first physician over the originally listed Rebecca Cole.
  • Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919) is hailed as the first U.S. female surgeon. She was the second female medical school graduate behind Dr. Blackwell.

The field of medicine has traveled far since these first pioneers and many who have come after have forged the way. Sacrificing much, they set out to prove that something that seemed impossible could be done and that women could, in fact, hold a significant role in quality medical care. We salute these women, and women all over the world today who will hold their own place in history.