Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

WhoSaysWomenDoctorsWhen Elizabeth Blackwell was a child, in the 1830’s, women were expected to become teachers, seamstresses, or wives and mothers.  They were not supposed to become doctors.

As a girl, Elizabeth Blackwell didn’t talk about becoming a doctor – she didn’t like blood, and hated being sick.  But, she was a spirited girl with courage.  She “wanted to explore around every corner and….never walked away from a challenge.”

When Elizabeth Blackwell was twenty-four, she visited a friend who was very ill – and who encouraged Elizabeth Blackwell to become a doctor.

“At first, Elizabeth could not believe her ears.  Even if a girl could be a doctor, why would she want to be one?  But Mary’s idea gnawed at Elizabeth.  A female doctor.”

Elizabeth Blackwell thought about the idea a great deal.  Her family supported the idea.  So, she worked as a teacher to earn money and began applying to medical schools.  She did not get enthusiastic responses.

“Twenty-eight Nos in all.  In different ways, the letters all said the same thing:  Women cannot be doctors.  They should not be doctors.”

She was accepted at Geneva Medical School in New York state.  The people in the town stared at her and whispered.  The other students didn’t want her to be there.  Eventually, with much hard work, she proved herself – and she graduated (in 1849) with the highest grades in the class.

Marjorie Priceman’s bright illustrations complement the text.  This is a good book to share and use as a starting point for discussions of limitations, women’s rights, gender roles, and the classic “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

The book has two pages of additional information about Elizabeth Blackwell.  The reader learns that after she graduated from medical school, no one would hire her.  Eventually, Elizabeth Blackwell opened a free clinic in New York City, and taught people about cleanliness and staying healthier.  Elizabeth and her sister, Emily (who also became a doctor), started their own hospital, The New York Infirmary for Women and Children – the first hospital run by women, for women.  Elizabeth Blackwell later opened a medical school for women in New York, helped create the London School of Medicine for Women in England, and helped start the National Health Society.  She died in 1910 at the age of eighty-nine.  Today over half of all medical school students in the United States are women.


  1. Valerie Ormond on November 21, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Dear Patty,
    Thank you for this great review and for introducing me to this book and Elizabeth Blackwell. As a woman who grew up in a typical man’s job (the Navy), I always enjoy reading and hearing about women who paved the way. I have to find the right girl to buy this for, but it is a great find. Thanks again.

  2. Kriss MacDonald on November 21, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    This sounds like a book that could help many young people appreciate and better understand the obstacles that so many had to overcome to achieve their dreams and ambitions.

  3. Reshama on November 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    I love picture book biographies.. and admit that since we have a daughter I tend to read more biographies about women 🙂 Thanks for recommending and reviewing this book on Kid Lit Blog Hop!
    -Reshama @ Stackingbooks

  4. Cheryl Carpinello on November 29, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    What a great book for all kids. High school kids would like this (They love picture books!) as they are deciding how to spend the rest of their lives. Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop! Cheryl, Hop Hostess

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