Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)
She was the first woman in America to receive her medical degree. She served as a pioneer for women in the medical profession and promoted the education of women through lectures and by opening her own medical college for women in 1857. Although she was born and died in England, as both a student and a professor, she was a true pioneer of American education and helped open the door of accepting women into a male dominated profession.
Originally working as a teacher to support her family, and she soon realised that at this time teaching was one of the only professions open to women before they married. Before this time women were limited to being nurses or shadowed physicians. After Blackwell decided she wanted to become a professional doctor, she boarded with medical men who could mentor her whilst she read medical books when not teaching. Every school that she applied to to study medicine refused her application, except for Geneva College in New York state.
'Professors forced her to sit separately at lectures, and she was often excluded from labs. Blackwell, however, did not give up and eventually earned the respect of many professors and fellow students. Between her two years at medical college, Blackwell spent the summer at Blockley Almshouse in Philadelphia where she was given permission to observe the patients and physicians. The physicians, however, did not want her there and were not helpful'.(1)
However, in 1849, despite this prejudice, she became the first women in the world to receive a medical degree; graduating first in her class. 'After 1849 the percentage of women physicians in America steadily increased, until it was about 10 percent in 1914. The situation had improved so much by 1889 that Blackwell wrote: “The avenues by which all may enter into the profession are now so much more widely thrown open, that there is little difficulty in the way of any man or woman who may wish to acquire a legal right to practice medicine.”'(2)
For these reasons she was and is heralded by the Women's Rights Movement and has left a lasting legacy.
Mae C. Jemison (1956-)
Jemison is the first African-American female astronaut, after being admitted into the program in 1987. In 1992, she became the first African-American woman to go to space; aboard the Endeavour with NASA. Following her historic flight, Jemison noted that society should recognize how much both women and members of other minority groups can contribute if given the opportunity. In recognition of her accomplishments Jemison has received several awards and honorary doctorates.
Born in a time of considerably sexism and racism Jeminson pursued her dreams of being a scientist telling Ebony magazine that'"in kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her a scientist," Jemison says. "She said, 'Don't you mean a nurse?' Now, there's nothing wrong with being a nurse, but that's not what I wanted to be.' She graduated from high school and entered Stanford University at only 16 years old, later receiving a degree in chemical engineering. At university she again encountered both sexism and racism '"Some professors would just pretend I wasn't there. I would ask a question and a professor would act as if it was just so dumb, the dumbest question he had ever heard. Then, when a white guy would ask the same question, the professor would say, 'That's a very astute observation.'" She later obtained her doctors degree in 1981.
She has shown what women and African-Americans can acheive and opened the door for other African Americans and women to aspire to being astronauts. Since Jemison two more African American women have travelled to space.