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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Revisiting Henderson's Past: 1st lady doctor

It's time to take another peek into the archives ...

Elizabeth Blackwell and the Henderson Seminary

As Americans, many school children learn about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States and possibly in the world. What most students do not learn is that Ms. Blackwell once called Henderson, Kentucky her home. Before she overcame prejudice against females entering medical school though, Elizabeth was a teacher at one of the region’s first schools, the Henderson Seminary, located on the southwest corner of Fourth and Elm Streets.

Elizabeth Blackwell was born to a wealthy family in Bristol, England in 1821. In 1832, she and her family immigrated to the United States and by 1844, she had taken a job as a teacher at the Henderson Seminary. Her trip to Henderson via the Ohio River proved unnerving, as the first sight of Henderson Elizabeth recalled was “three dirty old frame buildings, a steep bank covered with mud, some Negroes and dirty white people at the foot.” In fact, it was in Henderson that Elizabeth got her first bad taste of slavery and for many years after her experiences here, she was an avid abolitionist. Because Henderson could not offer the fineries to which Elizabeth was accustomed and because she saw the residents as uneducated and uncivilized, she began her work here with a hatred of the town.

After several months in Henderson, though, Elizabeth confessed in her letters to her family in Cincinnati that the townspeople were always cordial, that her students were pleasant, and that she had no shortage of suitors in Henderson. The seminary would provide the means for Elizabeth to raise money for medical school, and though Ms. Blackwell went on to accomplish a great many things in her field, she likely never forgot her time in Henderson and the seminary work which made it all possible.

To learn more about Elizabeth Blackwell’s time in Henderson or her research and accomplishments, come visit our local history department and check out Currents – Henderson’s River Book by Gail King and Susan Thurman or one of the following biographies on the dauntless woman doctor.

The Excellent Doctor Blackwell: The Life of the First Woman Physician by Julia Boyd
Lone Woman: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the First Woman Doctor by Dorothy Clarke Wilson

To see what other services we offer, you can visit our genealogy page, or you may want to read previous “Revisiting Henderson’s Past” entries.

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