Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? the story of Elizabeth Blackwell

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? book cover

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? the story of Elizabeth Blackwell
by Tanya Lee Stone; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Christy Ottaviano Books, New York, 2013
ISBN 978-0-8050-9048-2
Picture book, biography
40 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Dewey: 610
Orbis Pictus Award, recommended book, 2014
Interest level: K-5
Reading level: 4.5
5 out of 5 stars


This is a wonderful picture book biography of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America. The story begins by informing the reader that there was a time when women were not allowed to be doctors. Many young readers will not be aware of this, and this somewhat shocking revelation makes a good hook as we then learn about Elizabeth Blackwell, from when she was a tough young girl up through her graduation from medical college.

The author includes some interesting details that helps readers get to know Blackwell. She was “a girl who tried sleeping on the hard floor with no covers, just to toughen herself up,” and “blood made her queasy.” It was when she was visiting a sick friend that she started to think about female doctors. The friend commented that “she would have much preferred being examined by a woman. She urged Elizabeth to consider becoming a doctor.”

Priceman’s gouache and india ink illustrations are colorful and flowing, and create a sense of movement that perfectly matches the text and the personality of Blackwell. Untitled

As Blackwell receives twenty-eight rejection letters from medical schools, Priceman has created an overwhelmed Blackwell surrounded by swirling letters and a series of “no’s.” Untitled

You turn the page, and there is one solid “Yes!” and the image of a figure carrying a suitcase halfway off the page. The juxtaposition of those two scenes brings the feelings of Blackwell to life.

The combination of an intriguing main character, engaging illustrations, and solid text that reads well would make this an excellent read-aloud opportunity. It would fit with children as young as kindergarten up through high school, if they were studying women’s rights.

The author has included a note at the back that fills in information around the main story. We learn of Blackwell’s infancy, as well as what happened after medical school. A source list is included.

The Library of Congress has a collection of Elizabeth Blackwell’s papers. You can view a handwritten letter from 1851 written by Blackwell concerning women’s rights.
Library of Congress: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awmss5/blackwell.html

The author’s website has a Teacher’s Guide and CCSS Connections publication available for download.
Teacher’s Guide: http://tanyastone.com/assets/files/Blackwell%20Reader%20Guide.pdf
CCSS Connections: http://tanyastone.com/assets/files/Blackwell%20Reader%20Guide.pdf

School Library Journal has teaching ideas for the book. This article includes an extensive list of online resources for more information about Elizabeth Blackwell.
The Classroom Bookshelf: http://www.theclassroombookshelf.com/2013/05/who-says-women-cant-be-doctors-the-story-of-elizabeth-blackwell/

3 thoughts on “Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? the story of Elizabeth Blackwell”

  1. I’m so glad I saw your review of this book. I was thinking of using Tanya Lee Stone as one of my authors in our next LitBit. I also really love the art in this book. The illustrations have a wonderful style, and they aren’t too “childish” for a children’s book, if that makes any sense. I think a lot of children stay away from biographies, but with these illustrations and Stone’s tidbits throughout if should capture their attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This sounds like a great book and I really want to read it for myself so that I can get to know who Elizabeth Blackwell.. This would be an awesome book to share with children especially because of her perseverance in becoming a doctor. I know you commented on my blog post about Marie Tharp and I feel like this book would go hand in hand with the topic of women’s rights and strong female role models. I also love that I now know of another book that shows women in the field of science or STEM.

      Liked by 1 person

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