Elizabeth knew she could do better. She
decided to become a surgeon.
Soon after, a terrible thing happened. She
was treating a baby for ophthalmia, a serious
eye disease, when some of the fluid spurted
into her left eye. Elizabeth caught the dreaded
disease, and after a few weeks her doctors
concluded that the sight in that eye was hope-
lessly lost. Anna, who was in Paris, helped her
sister through “two days of unspeakable grief
and despair.” The eye was eventually removed.
Elizabeth did not want to perform operations
with less than perfect vision, and so she aban-
doned her hopes of becoming a surgeon. But
she was still a doctor. Elizabeth soon recovered
her strength and drive. She returned to America
and opened an office in New York City.
Not many patients came to see her.
Elizabeth knew that most of the poor families
in the city needed medical care, but could not
afford it. So she raised money, rented a house,
and started a free clinic.
Slowly people began to come. Elizabeth
also went to see them in their unhealthy liv-
ing conditions. She recalled that in one sick
child’s home, “the thermometer varied from
86 to 90 in the house, and it stood at 102 in
some rooms downtown. The heat made my
brain seem too large for my head.”
Elizabeth realized that people could pre-
vent most diseases if they knew how. She
encouraged cleanliness and proper food stor-
age, exercise, fresh air, and plenty of sunshine.
Although absorbed in her work, Elizabeth
began to feel that she was missing some-
thing by living alone. She paid several visits
to an orphanage and
Barry. Kitty, who
was thin and under-
care into a lively,
She became fiercely
devoted to Elizabeth,
whom she called
“Doctor” or “My
Doctor.” “Who will
ever guess the support
which that poor little
orphan has been to
me?” wrote Elizabeth
two years later. When
Kitty grew up, she stayed with Elizabeth as
her traveling companion and secretary.
In 1857 Elizabeth opened the New York
Infirmary, a hospital for women and children
that is still in existence today. The hospital
became a training center for the first nurs-
ing school in America. In 1868 she opened a
medical college for women, the first school in
the United States to teach hygiene, or disease
When other medical schools for women
opened their doors, Elizabeth considered
her work in America completed. She and
Kitty returned to England where Elizabeth
promoted hygiene and worked for women’s
causes until a few years before her death at
the age of eighty-nine.