DR. ELIZABETH: The Story of the First Woman Doctor by Patricia Clapp

DR. ELIZABETH: The Story of the First Woman Doctor

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Like Constance (1968), Patricia Clapp's novel based on an actual Mayflower passenger, this biography of the first woman doctor is written in the first person as if recorded by Elizabeth Blackwell herself as the events occur. As projected here Elizabeth is a squeamish, self-preoccupied girl with no interest in helping the sick, but charged by a dying old woman and encouraged by her advanced and liberal family, she is determined to prove a feminist point and to make something of her own life. Elizabeth applies to countless medical schools and is admitted to Geneva University in New York State by student vote, does postgraduate work in London and Paris, where infection from an infant with ophthalmia results in the removal of one eye, and returns to New York City where she establishes with two other women doctors (one of them her younger sister) the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. We wonder whether Dr. Blackwell, a person of limited imagination and conventional prose style (Clapp adapts hers to match the letters quoted here), really entertained the advanced thoughts on sanitation attributed to her here, but her proper lady's revulsion from the male doctors' pus and blood-stiffened jackets and handkerchiefs is easy to credit. And her dramatic adventures (such as when she is mobbed by a dead patient's relatives and saved only by the coroner's on-the-spot autopsy), meetings with personages (Elizabeth knew Florence Nightingale and met President Lincoln) and medical-historical observations (of jars of leeches to which she prefers a ""clean knife,"" shrieks of surgery patients when the opium wears off, a demonstration of the newly invented stethoscope) ensure a readership.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1974
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard