Medical pioneer Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell honored 50 years ago, honored today

2014: Patricia Numann MD, first woman surgeon in Syracuse, with Upstate's portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell.

2014: Patricia Numann MD, first woman surgeon in Syracuse, with Upstate’s portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Upstate’s downtown and community campus hospitals—and the 50th anniversary of the first time in memory that Upstate Medical University honored its most famous graduate:  Elizabeth Blackwell MD, class of 1849.  Blackwell (1821-1910) was the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States, valedictorian at our medical school and founder of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

1964: Medical student Pat Numann, right, with Dr. Mary Voorhees, assistant professor of pediatrics, who delivered the Upstate's first Elizabeth Blackwell Day lecture.

1964: Medical student Pat Numann, right, with Dr. Mary Voorhees, assistant professor of pediatrics, speaker at  Upstate’s first Elizabeth Blackwell Day.

Patricia Numann MD was a medical student at Upstate in 1964, and among those who led the effort to honor  Blackwell with a portrait and lecture series. “We raised $500 for Joe Kozlowski to paint her portrait, which was more than a semester’s tuition in those days,” remembers Numann.

A small but generous group of women alumni, faculty members and students conceived of the Blackwell recognition and donated the money to make it possible. Numann explains the modest numbers: “When I was a student, there were fewer that 15 women students in the entire medical school. And I was the only female surgical resident.”

Listen to an interview with Patricia Numann, MD

The 1964 effort to recognize Blackwell may have been led by women, but Numann fondly remembers one man who was a great supporter: Upstate president Carlyle Jacobsen, PhD, who surprised attendees at the portrait unveiling with the announcement of a new street to be named for Elizabeth Blackwell.

1964: Letter confirming that a new street will be built and named Elizabeth Blackwell St.

1964: Letter confirming that a new street would be built and named Elizabeth Blackwell St.

Construction of Elizabeth Blackwell Street–located across from the hospital entrance and between East Adams and Harrison streets in Syracuse—was  part of the site planning for the downtown hospital, which included the building of two high-rises (one now named Jacobsen Hall) and the campus activities building.

Blackwell continues to be honored each February with a lecture organized by Upstate medical students. This year’s speaker was Yvonne Maddox PhD, deputy director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health.

Yvonne Maddox, PhD

Yvonne Maddox PhD

Elizabeth Blackwell’s papers are housed at Upstate’s Health Sciences Library. In 1974, she was honored with  a US postage stamp, and is a frequent subject of articles and books, including the recently published children’s book, “Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?” by Tanya Lee Stone.

Do you have a memory of the building of Upstate University Hospital’s downtown and community campuses? Please contact the hospital anniversary committee through Susan Keeter, keeters@upstate.edu, 315-464-4834.

Listen to an interview with Patricia Numann, MD on HealthLink on Air

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About susankeeter

Occasional contributor Upstate’s Susan Keeter has written about and painted Upstate’s Dr. Sarah Loguen, one of the first African American women physicians. Keeter created the horse sculpture in front of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and illustrated a children’s book on autism, “Waiting for Benjamin.” She’s written for Physician Practice, Upstate Alumni Journal, Cancer Care and Upstate Health magazines. Reach her by email at keeters@upstate.edu or by phone at 315-464-4834.
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