In the early 1900s, my great grandmother, Nancy Didama Spencer Burke (Grandma Damie) was a doctor. She rode around the back hills of Newton County, Mississippi, taking care of the sick. She didn’t ride in a car. She rode side-saddle, and a woman doctor was a rare thing.
Many moons ago, women were the caretakers and caregivers, but at some point the medical power was given over to men. Gaining that power back was a hard door to open.
It was opened by Elizabeth Blackwell (pictured left) in the mid-1800s. Miss Blackwell was born in England, but raised in America. A dying female friend told her she would have suffered far less if her physician had been a woman. This statement encouraged Elizabeth to pursue a career in medicine. She was told she would never become a doctor, because there was no schooling available for a woman, but that didn’t stop her from applying to every medical school in the country. Finally, as a joke, she was voted into Geneva Medical College in New York. I can only imagine the ridicule she received at the all-male school. But she showed them. She graduated first in her class in 1849 and later studied surgery, midwifery, and obstetrics. One can imagine she had very few patients and no camaraderie, but she persevered. Keep in mind this was 100 years before women even got the right to vote. She was a strong and intelligent woman.
She paved the path for many women in the field of medicine – even Grandma Damie.