Elizabeth Blackwell, Botanical Illustrator: A Curious Herbal
Elizabeth Blackwell may seem a fairly ordinary sort of name. However, historically, not one but two dynamic women carried this name. Both were British born.
Elizabeth Blackwell, the first physician
The most recent Elizabeth Blackwell was actually the first female physician. She was born in February 1821 in Bristol in England. The first woman to obtain a medical degree in the United States, in 1849, and the first woman on the UK medical register. Quite a feat. Several educational institutions resisted before one finally admitted her to study.
She wrote a number of books. Furthermore she was instrumental in the education of women in medicine. Incidentally her younger sister Emily was the third female to obtain a medical degree.
Elizabeth Blackwell, the botanical illustrator
Her book, A Curious Herbal published in 1737, was designed to aid physicians and apothecaries in plant identification. It contains several beautiful illustrations of medicinal plants. The book is quite beautiful and of particular interest to me.
Her husband, a doctor, was a somewhat lavish spender. In addition, he had accrued a few fines. He ended up in a debtor’s prison. Consequently leaving poor Elizabeth destitute with no income and a child to feed.
Discovering a need for such an illustrated book, Elizabeth relocated to near the Chelsea Physic Garden. From there she was able to draw the plants from life.
Finally she accrued sufficient funds for her husbands release from prison. This was largely due to the income from A Curious Herbal. However, once again he accrued debts. Eventually he left his family for Sweden. He was later executed for conspiracy. Elizabeth died in 1758. She is buried in Chelsea, London.
Although Elizabeth was not a physician her book is a remarkable record of medicinal plants in use during that time period.