Elizabeth Blackwell, who in 1849 became the first female M.D. of the modern era, came to life Sept. 6 at the Florida State University College of Medicine. As part of a celebration of Women in Medicine Month, the medical school invited Linda Gray Kelley to perform her one-woman show, “‘A Lady Alone’ – Elizabeth Blackwell: First American Woman Doctor.”
Blackwell is an especially appropriate choice for Florida State. Her likeness appears in a terrazzo mural on the College of Medicine’s main campus in Tallahassee. Like the College of Medicine, she was innovative and dedicated to serving the underserved.
What’s more, Florida State has its own version of Blackwell in Charlotte Maguire, the only woman in the Class of 1944 at the University of Arkansas medical school. In 1946 Maguire became the first woman in Orlando to establish a private practice in pediatrics. She dedicated her career to caring for minorities, children with disabilities and the poor. Subsequently she played a key role in establishing the Florida State College of Medicine, where the medical library and the Center for Clinical Simulation are both named for her.
Maguire, who recently celebrated her 94th birthday, enjoyed the “A Lady Alone” performance, frequently smiling and nodding her head as the Blackwell character encountered obstacles similar to those she had faced.
“Treatment of me was just the same,” Maguire said afterward. “I, too, was the only one given an assigned seat and given special outside assignments to prevent me from attending lectures when male and female anatomy came up. If it weren’t for my male medical student colleagues holding special bullpen sessions each week to share what they had learned during the lectures, I would have been completely isolated from the lectures on male anatomy or any male subject matter.”
A century earlier, Blackwell had been rejected by all the leading medical schools before she was accepted by Geneva Medical College in upstate New York. She became the first woman doctor to graduate from medical school in the United States.
“A Lady Alone” was written by Lynn Eckhert, an M.D. at Harvard Medical School. In addition to chronicling Blackwell’s setbacks and triumphs, it vividly underscores the advances in medicine and society since the mid-19th century. Kelley, sometimes accompanied by Eckhert, performs it for medical schools, libraries, conferences and associations. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Florida State College of Medicine was established in 2000. When Dean John Fogarty introduced the program, he noted that the medical school, which strives for a student body as diverse as Florida’s population, so far has graduated eight classes – and 54 percent of those M.D.s have been women.