About the Holiday
When the United States celebrated International Women’s Day in 1911, it paved the way for more extensive recognition of the contributions of women. Women’s Day stretched to a week officially in 1981 when Republican Senator Orin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Representative Barbara Mikulski of Maryland co-sponsored a Joint Congressional Resolution that established Women’s History Week. Six years later Congress named March as Women’s History Month.
March is a great time to discover and learn about the women who have shaped our country in all fields of endeavor from the arts to education to the sciences and beyond. Today we celebrate a woman who changed the medical profession forever.
Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell
Written by Tanya Lee Stone | Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Once upon a time there were no women doctors. Women weren’t even allowed to be doctors. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Fortunately, this one-time fact has entered the realm of fiction—all thanks to Elizabeth Blackwell. Elizabeth was not like other girls of the 1830s. She loved to explore and take on challenges. She could lift her brother over her head, and to toughen herself up she slept on the hard wood floor. To get a better look at the world she climbed to the roof of her house and leaned waaaaay out with a spyglass. What did she see? Maybe she saw her future. But it wasn’t what she imagined at the time. Blood made her queasy, dissection was disgusting, and being sick just made her want to hide from all the fussing.
But a comment by a sick friend, puts a bee in her bonnet. Mary Donaldson tells Elizabeth that she would much rather have been examined by a woman than her male doctor. “You should be a doctor, Elizabeth,” Mary says.
What a crazy notion, right? Well… Elizabeth can’t stop thinking about it. She asks around. Some people think it’s a good idea, but impossible; others just think it’s impossible. They believe women aren’t strong enough or smart enough and they laugh at her. By this time, though, Elizabeth is determined.
She applies to 28 medical schools, and they all say, “No.” But one day a “Yes” arrives in the mail. Elizabeth packs her bags. The townspeople all come out to see this new medical student, but they aren’t outside to welcome Elizabeth; they just want to whisper and point and stare. Surely, Elizabeth thinks, the students will be happy to see her.
But she receives the same reception on the college campus. In fact, she learns, the only reason she was accepted is because the men voted to let her in as a joke! Elizabeth knows how to handle it. She studies hard and gives her opinions, and soon she wins the respect of her fellow students—even if the townspeople still don’t accept her.
On January 23, 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell graduates from medical school with the highest grades in the class. She has become the first woman doctor in America! Many people hope that she would be the last. But as we know…she was Not!
Tanya Lee Stone magnificently imbues this short biography of Elizabeth Blackwell with enough mystery, conflict, and history for even the youngest readers to understand the type of girl and woman Elizabeth was as well as the challenges she faced. The details of Blackwell’s life that Stone includes are deftly chosen, and make her instantly recognizable and relatable to children. One line in the text written in the present tense amid the historical past transforms this biography into a universal story for all generations. Blackwell may have started out as a reluctant dreamer, but once she dared to believe she accomplished more than she or anyone could have imagined. It is what we want for all our children.
Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations, swirling with words, angled on the page and floating in white space, are as topsy-turvy as the world Elizabeth Blackwell created. Blackwell’s boldness is echoed in the rich colors and strong lines of the gouache and India-ink paintings, and the emotions she stirred in others—from derision to horror to admiration—are cleverly and exceptionally drawn in a minimal style on the characters’ faces.
Ages 5 – 9
Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company | ISBN 978-0805090482
International Women’s Day Activity
Doctor Clothespin Figure
Make one of these clothespin figures that honors International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month as well as everything doctors do to help us stay healthy.
- Printable Doctors’ Coats and Scrubs Template
- Peg clothespins, available at craft stores and hardware stores
- Draw a face and hair on the clothespin
- Cut out the outfit you want your doctor to wear (color pants on your clothespin if you choose the lab coat)
- Wrap the coat or scrubs around the clothespin. The slit in the clothespin should be on the side.
- Tape the clothes together
- Wrap the cap around the head and tape it.
- If you’d like to display your clothespin doctor on a wire, string, or the edge of a box or other container, cut along the dotted lines of the clothes template.