Dr. Elizabeth Critical Essays

Patricia Clapp


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Dr. Elizabeth is highly readable and is a valuable biography for young people. It portrays the struggle to open the medical profession to women and exposes the many lines of defense devised to prevent women from expanding their role once they entered the field of medicine. Clapp delves into some of the reasons women wanted to become doctors; she also provides insights into the state of medicine in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, especially the lack of concern for sanitation and hygiene among practitioners who saw no value in cleanliness and dismissed sanitation as a waste of time.

Clapp emphasizes Blackwell’s concern for sanitation and her desire to raise the standards of medical education. She reveals the poor quality of medical education in the nineteenth century. Blackwell’s two years at Geneva Medical College consisted of short, superficial courses with easy oral examinations and no practical experience. A typical medical college had no laboratories, clinics, or hospital affiliation, and the faculty consisted of part-time teachers who were physicians in private practice seeking to increase their income. Blackwell’s New York Women’s Medical Col-lege was well in advance of such schools as the Harvard Medical School, which still utilized short lecture courses and required no practical experience.

The book is a captivating one. The conversational tone and use of the first person provide immediacy and intimacy, and Clapp’s use of these methods is effective. The story...

(The entire section is 624 words.)