15 September 2015

Genesis, Labor, Triumph

My Tuesday Talk Guest: Robert Nordmeyer 
The Other Side of Courage

As every writer knows, the subject for a book can suddenly appear from out of nowhere and often from the most unlikely sources. Thus it was for my forthcoming book, The Other Side of Couragethe Saga of Elizabeth Blackwell.
I, like so many others, knew nothing of Elizabeth Blackwell; that is, not until January 11, 2010. She came into my life at breakfast and we have been close companions ever since.

At that time my wife and I enjoyed a small ritual following our breakfast by reading from a page-a-day notepad-calendar. Each page had a quote or historic event that occurred on that day, and this is where my acquaintance with Elizabeth Blackwell began: 

1849: Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States (It was actually in the whole world). Hospitals, clinics and landlords in New York refused to associate with her so she opened her own dispensary, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in the city’s slums. She was joined by her sister Emily who earned a medical degree as well.”

What inspired me the most about that short clip was that besides being the first woman physician, Elizabeth dedicated her work to the poor living in the slums of New York City. That fact leaped out at me and exposed exactly what kind of woman Elizabeth Blackwell was. It was absolute fodder for an exciting story. And once I began my research into her life I did indeed find not only an exciting story but a huge inspiration for courage, determination and humanitarian zeal.

So what is the story of Elizabeth Blackwell?

In the winter of 1849 this one woman shattered the glass ceiling of medicine and in doing so destroyed its male dominance. This determined action by Elizabeth also established the essential foothold that eventually changed the lives of women everywhere. 

Yet this grand achievement was not without its scars of harsh resistance, ridicule and bitter resentment. Elizabeth Blackwell, in becoming the first woman in the world to receive a degree in medicine and who became the first practicing female doctor, suffered the constant throes of anger and antipathy from the medical profession. Here is an excerpt from the book that reflects the impossible task she faced:

It was the summer of 1846, a time of much discontent for Elizabeth. She had exhausted most of her financial resources, had reached the end of her list of medical schools and saw her determinate quest begin to wither and rot away. Where once there were encouraging words from those physicians who were friends of the family now there was only a reiteration of earlier cautions that the medical profession was wholly resistant to admitting women into their sacred ranks.

Yet there remained a determination in her, a force that some of her siblings and friends felt was bordering on insanity. The impenetrable wall Elizabeth encountered appeared to grow as word filtered among those in the medical field of this impudent young woman who was bringing chaos and trouble to their domain. Still she persisted, at times having no directions to follow. She walked a blind path with only imperfect grit guiding the way.

The Other Side of Courage – the Saga of Elizabeth Blackwell is a fictional account based on a real life dominated by sheer persistence and eventual reward. The many trials and successes of Elizabeth Blackwell are vividly portrayed, helping the reader live through Elizabeth’s early warfare with physicians, follow her through her college experiences, suffer with her during the medical disaster that nearly destroyed her achievement and share in the joy as she establishes a hospital for the poor in the slums of New York City. Again, I share an excerpt from the book that paints the flavor of that historic moment on a January day in 1849:

Hesitating momentarily, then in a slow, deliberate motion, Elizabeth rose from her seat and began the short walk to the stairs. She could feel the same tingling in her finger tips she had felt before whenever the moment was electrified by a significant occasion. It was necessary to inhale deeply several times to distill all signs of nervousness. Continuing to move with deliberate caution she ascended the steps and headed to where the President sat. Positioning herself in front of the President she was suddenly caught completely by surprise as he leaned forward and stood.  For several seconds the church grew still. Gradually a slight murmur began to waft through the crowd, for the President of the College had just broken a long-standing precedence as he rose to award a diploma.

From a calendar page to a historical fiction book, indeed a fascinating journey for Elizabeth Blackwell.

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  1. A promising story. Elizabeth graduated the year after the first women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, NY. Those who led the charge for equal rights had a tough path to blaze. Thanks for researching this account.

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment - I've passed it on to Robert.

    2. Thank you, Mr. Dawson, for your nice comments on my forthcoming book on Elizabeth Blackwell. Indeed Elizabeth and all others fighting for equal rights had a very difficult time struggling for what should have been natural patterns in society. Elizabeth's triumph was a major opening for those who fought that good fight. It was nice that you recognized that. Thanks again for your comments.

      Robert Nordmeyer


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