New York: George Putnam, 1852. First edition. Original publisher's cloth binding, stamped in blind with gilt to spine. All edges stained red. Brown endpapers. Some rubbing to extremities and spotting to rear board, but in all an exceptionally neat and square copy. Internally bright and clean, unmarked and without the foxing typical of imprints of this period. A rarity at institutions and on the market, this title by the first female M.D. in North America has only sold at auction three times in over thirty years.
Born to a progressive family that believed in abolition, and in the equal education of sons and daughters, Elizabeth Blackwell began her career as the head of a girls' school while she worked toward her ambition of becoming a doctor. "Finding a way of realizing this ambition however would not be easy...in 1847, after years of private study and numerous rejections from medical schools, her application to the small, low-status medical school at Geneva in upstate New York was put the students by faculty, who were confident that the vote would result in a resounding rejection. The mischievous students, however, voted unanimously to admit her and then found themselves victim of their own practical joke when, in January 1849, Blackwell graduated MD above all 150 male students, an event that received widespread press in the United States and Great Britain" (ODNB). From 1849-1851 she worked at La Maternite in Paris, gaining clinical practice and expanding her knowledge of women's biology and medical care, before returning to New York "where she began to focus on making healthcare more accessible to women. In 1852, she taught a series of classes in a basement on sexual physiology and reproduction for young women. She later published these lectures as The Laws of Life" (Darby). The positive response Blackwell had received from attendees -- and especially their requests to become her patients -- impressed upon her the need for wider spread education of women on their own health. This was the impetus for publishing The Laws of Life, to ensure that the greatest number of girls and women could understand their bodies and communicate with doctors about their own healthcare. It also motivated her to open a fully woman-run "small private practice in 1853, where she began to treat women and children...the first to provide a female-centered patient care model and an avenue for young graduated female physicians to obtain work" (Darby). The Laws of Life has the two-fold mission of educating mothers on the female body so that girls can likewise benefit from this training and knowledge. Indeed, it was Blackwell's goal to take away the stigma associated with the details of female health to ensure greater survival of girls into adulthood and through motherhood. A physician, educator, and activist, Blackwell paved the way for women's entrance into the field and contributed toward more modern models of care. Near Fine (Item #2942)