Great American Women in Science and Environment

D. J. Mathews

life changing, fun books, exciting nonfiction, history


Do you ever wonder what made Elizabeth Blackwell decide to become our first American woman doctor? Or why marine biologist Rachel Carson wrote the book of warning about DDT's dangers in Silent Spring? How did Madam C.J. Walker become our first African American self made millionaire from haircare products? Who inspired astronaut Sally Ride and cancer researcher Gertrude Elion to become great in their fields? These fourteen short bios in this YA oriented book show who inspired these women and more to truly become great, and show you can make a difference as an individual. They are worth learning more about (with narratives praised by teens and adults alike).

About the Author:

Hi, folks. I'm a freelance writer/columnist/author looking for more readers. I'm also a Master naturalist member (cancer survivor), mother of 3 sons, and actually have a lot of experience feature writing (have written for the likes of Virginia Wildlife, The Roanoke Times, GEICO Direct magazine,, etc.). I am trying to also DO SOME HUMOR OR LIGHTHER SIDE WRITING at , so check it out. If you like it you can buy me a coffee at , okay? I would like to see a cleaner, healthier environment, loved Yellowstone National Park, and have an interest in consumer/education issues, and of course, reading books!


Chapter 1

Elizabeth Blackwell

First American Woman Doctor


 The idea of Western society accepting the idea of women as medical doctors is fairly recent in America’s history. In sixth grade I (the author) had a great interest in the human body and asked my science teacher how well I was doing in class. So he asked, “Why do you want to know?” I replied, “Because some day I’m going to be a doctor.”

 A girl sitting across from me heard this and frowned. She said in a loud whisper, “Girls can’t be doctors!”

 But they can. It took one woman to start the ball rolling, to be the first to attempt it and be successful, to be among the first to start medical colleges just for women. That woman was Elizabeth Blackwell. Just what did it take to accomplish what she did in the mid to late 1800s? It’s time to find out.

The Early Years Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Counterslip near Bristol, England on February 3, 1821. As the third eldest, after sisters Anna and Marian, her help to mother Hannah in caring for her six younger brothers and sisters would become very important, perhaps why she helped the sick later on.

 Her father, Samuel Blackwell, was well-to-do because he owned a sugar refinery. He thought differently from other men in the early 1800s. His Congregationalist church was like the Quakers; they believed women and men were equal before God. So why not also provide an equal education for them? His daughters and sons both had tutors or special teachers to help them learn. They took lessons in math, philosophy, science, and German.

 Samuel encouraged afternoon walks outside for his children. They developed a curiosity about things. When older sister Anna was given a telescope, Elizabeth and her brothers Sam and Henry grew very interested.

 “Oh, do let me see it too! I want to see what’s out there!” Elizabeth exclaimed when Anna brought it out. They would gaze out at the stars and wonder about the big world out there.

 Science was starting to really interest Elizabeth. But when their tutor showed her the eye of a bull with its many muscles and ligaments, she was disgusted.

 “Ew, that’s gross,” she told her siblings. Her brothers just smiled, thinking about putting a frog on her lap. Elizabeth, sometimes called “Bess,” continued to study hard despite her brothers’ antics.

 Her Aunt Barbara noticed her actions. “It’s such a pity such determination is wasted on a girl,” she said to Hannah.

 “I’m sure our Bess will do well in life with her attitude,” her mother Hannah replied.

 Times were beginning to change in England. Mill workers, who liked neither their low pay nor lack of property rights, were protesting. There was finally a workers’ riot. In anger, they set buildings on fire, including Samuel Blackwell’s refinery. It was totally destroyed; the family needed a change. They were going to America!

 The family crowded unto a ship bound for New York City the summer of 1832, when Elizabeth was eleven years old. She turned a bit green during the trip.

 “Not feeling well?” Her brother Sam asked.

 “Not at all,” she said, looking away from the water.

 “Try this.” Sam took a licorice stick out of his pants pocket. She didn’t care for the taste much, but her stomach calmed down a little. “Thanks,” she said.

 “Aren’t you glad it wasn’t a bull’s eye?” her brother asked.

 Although they enjoyed the exciting life of New York City, their dad Samuel wanted to grow sugar from sugar beets the way Napoleon had. He decided to move the family to Cincinnati, Ohio. After a few years he suddenly became ill with bilious fever, affecting his liver. He died August 7, 1837. Elizabeth was sixteen.

 Now Hannah and her girls and boys had to be practical and make some money. Oldest sons Sam and Henry would have to find work. Hannah and her oldest daughters, Marian, Anna, and Elizabeth, would use their home as “The English and French Academy for Young Ladies,” with “teaching rooms” in their house. It was a way to make money, yes, but “Bess” felt a tug to do something else and told her brother Sam so. But what?

 For a while Elizabeth taught for a family living in Kentucky, where slavery was legal. She found she didn’t approve of that or the women who sat around and were waited on. Courtship was more formal; she couldn’t find a man who could be her better half while there and put the idea of marriage out of her head.

 Back in Cincinnati with family and friends, she paid a visit to an elderly sick friend, Mary Donaldson. Elizabeth sat with her dear friend awhile and listened to her, especially her unique idea.

 “Why don’t you become a doctor?”

 “Me, a doctor?” Elizabeth couldn’t help saying.

 “If I’d had a lady doctor it wouldn’t be so embarrassing to have someone look at my private areas. It would help me feel better with a woman by my side.”

 Elizabeth considered this. “I want to try this,” she decided. First, she’d have to find a medical college that would take her.

 It was 1845, after all, and women were mostly expected to become wives and mothers, or attempt to make a living as a teacher or farm worker. Elizabeth decided to teach a while longer to save up for medical school.

 Teaching Reverend John Dickson’s family in Asheville, North Carolina, came in handy. He had a medical library she could read when she wasn’t working. She wanted to learn all about the human body.

 Was this too much of an adventure for a determined woman? She wrote in her diary she was ready to commit to becoming a doctor. It was a “moral cause” to her.

 Soon, Elizabeth applied to medical schools on the East coast, in places like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. But no one was interested. Twenty-eight schools said no! So, who could help her?

 In May 1847, she boarded a ship in Charleston, South Carolina, for the trip up north, excited to give her medical future a try. She was to board with Dr. and Mrs. William Elder, encouraging Quakers who knew people in the Philadelphia medical field. Maybe Elizabeth had a chance in that city.

 One doctor, Dr. Joseph Allen, allowed her to observe his medical classes. He even let her in the dissection room, where bodies are cut in pieces. Oh, but the blood! Dr. Allen took her aside to show her the human wrist. The wrist is a part of the body with many pieces: tendons, bones, and bluish veins under the skin. Yes, she noted, there was a wonderful arrangement of the muscle. She could see the beauty of it, beyond the blood. She was getting less squeamish, less nervous about the real thing. The human body was a wonderful thing.

 She sent her college application to one more place. Geneva Medical School.

 The young men who attended this central New York medical school were happy-go-lucky, rowdy types. The college dean gathered them together and asked what they thought: should a woman be allowed to study medicine at our school?

 “Class,” said the dean, “we need to all agree on this.” Most of the male students took this as a joke of some kind. They all voted her in.

 Not long after that, Elizabeth received a letter from the college in the mail, at the home of the Elders. She anxiously pulled up the envelope flap and read the letter. She put her hand to her mouth.

 “They accepted me! I can go to medical school!”

 She thanked the Elders for all their kind support and letting her stay with them, and left for Geneva on November 4, 1847. At age twenty-six, she would become med student number 130.

When Doctors Lee and Webster asked her what she had studied, Elizabeth recited several courses, such as chemistry, biology, physiology, and Latin. She needed to get books and get settled in right away. School had already begun in September.

 As serious as she was about studying, her classmates were just the opposite. One time, a young man tossed a paper airplane toward her. It landed on her desk. All eyes around her wondered what Elizabeth would do. She tossed it aside, going back to taking down notes as their teacher spoke. Dr. Webster noticed. Maybe having a woman student was actually a good idea after all.

 Yet she was still treated like an annoying girl. Dr. Webster thought she would be “disruptive” in the dissection room, where they cut into a dead specimen.

 “Why should I not be allowed in this class?” she demanded. “How can I help women as a future doctor if I don’t know how their bodies work? Who will they turn to if they don’t have me?”

 Dr. Webster considered this. She did have a point.

 “I will think about it,” he said. Later, he allowed her to assist during a woman’s hernia operation.

 During a break from classes in 1848, she found work as a junior resident. She’d practice her doctoring skills at Blockley Almshouse. ...


Chapter 2

Sally Ride

First U. S. Woman in Space, Physics Professor


 “Sally, come to the TV, quick!”

 “What’s happening?” asked Sally, who had been doing homework in her room.

 “They’re stepping on the moon!” her mother cried.

 Three men, Michael Collins, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong, had flown to the moon. Although the moon looks close by, it took them three days to fly to the moon and land. The spacecraft split into two pieces. Michael Collins flew the command module around the moon. The other two men in a “lunar” module went down to land on the surface. Later, half of the lunar module would blast off and meet up with the command module so all three could fly home.

 A TV camera showed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bouncing with big steps on the moon because of its low gravity. Armstrong famously said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!”

 They moved among rocks and dirt. They put up a U.S. flag and also talked to President Nixon by telephone link. Although potentially quite dangerous because the moon was cold and airless, this was exciting for Sally to see. It helped her decide to study physics, which dealt with the inner workings of matter and energy.


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Format : paperback

Page Count : 148