Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell Book Poster Image
Lively, inspiring bio of America's first female doctor.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Kids lean about what career opportunities existed for women in the 1830s and '40s: "Girls were only supposed to be wives and mothers. Or maybe teachers, or seamstresses. Being a doctor was definitely not an option." They also seee that it takes lots of hard work and study to become a doctor. An informative author's note gives more biographical detail and includes the fact that today half of all U.S. medical students ae women, thanks to the courage and dedication of Elizabeth Blackwell. 

Positive messages

Believe in yourself. Girls can be as smart as boys. Never walk away from a challenge. One person can change the world. You can change people's prejudiced ideas about what "your kind" is capable of by being excellent at what you do. 

Positive role models & representations

Elizabeth Blackwell is a great role model, especially for girls, since she courageously broke a gender barrier to became the first female doctor in the United States, even though the medical establishment and many townspeople shunned her. An author's note explains that after she graduated from medical school no one would hire her as a doctor, so she got more training in England (wher she was born and lived till age 11) and France, and when she returned to New York she opened a free clinic serving poor women and children. She and her sister, who also became a doctor, eventually started their own hospital in 1857 -- the first hospital run by women for women. In 1868 she opened a medical school for women in the United States and helped organize the London School of Medicine for Women, and in 1971 started England's National Health Society. 

Violence & scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Why Can't Women Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell is a lively telling of how a girl "who never walked away from a challenge" grew up to be the first female doctor in the United States, against all odds and despite many people and institutions believing girls weren't smart enough to become doctors. Tanya Lee Stone's biographical picture book is brimming with Marjorie Priceman's fun, exuberant illustrations -- and even a cute dog -- that speed the tale along and make this slice of history engaging and entertaining. An inspirational choice for Women's History Month or anytime. And a great way to encourage girls to pursue science.

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What's the story?

In the 1830s, when Elizabeth Blackwell was growing up, there were no women doctors. But when she was 24, a friend who was very ill told her she would have preferred to be examined by a woman and urged Elizabeth to become one. She believed Elizabeth could change the world. After much thought, this no-nonsense young woman, \"who never walked away from a challenge,\" applied to medical school and got 28 rejections -- but one acceptance. In 1849 she became the first doctor in the United States, graduating with the highest grades in her class.

Is it any good?

This is an entertaining biographical snapshot that shows that discriminatory barriers are made to be broken. This lively, entertaining, inspirational picture book sweeps the reader up and swiftly moves along, showing a tough little girl who grows up to be a lovely young lady who will not be cowed by anyone and proves she's as smart, capable, and dedicated as any man. Marjorie Priceman's colorful illustrations have humor and momentum, contrasting the many No, No, No's on one spread with the thrilling YES on the following one, where Elizabeth packs her bags for Geneva Medical School in upstate New York. Even kindergartners will easily understand her great, historic achievement as they enjoy the cartoon-like images of girls and young women in 19th century long dresses and bonnets. A perfect choice for Women's History Month or for encouraging girls to study science. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why people once thought women couldn't be doctors. Are there things today that people think girls can't do? 

  • What is it about the art in Why Can't Women Be Doctors? that makes the story seem exciting? 

  • What other women in history can you think of who have done things that have made life better for all the girls and women who followed them? 

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