I want to tell you a story I first learned as a kid, one of the most important stories I’ve ever learned. It’s a true story about a woman named Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was one of 9 children, the third-born of the family. (How good does your family look right now, huh?) After spending the first part of her childhood in England, her family moved to the United States. Not long later, they ran into major financial problems. Eventually Elizabeth started teaching in order to make money but she struggled to find her place. Teaching wasn’t exactly her dream.
As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, a friend of hers was dying and told Elizabeth she wished she’d had a better doctor.
Elizabeth thought, I could do that. I could be that better doctor she should’ve had.
And so after studying with multiple physicians, she got into medical school and graduated.
If that were the whole story, it would seem unremarkable. Here’s the thing: Elizabeth Blackwell graduated in 1849, becoming the first female doctor in the United States.
Her path was not an easy one. She was told what she wanted was impossible, unless she disguised herself as a male. She was rejected by multiple medical schools simply because of her gender. Until one, Geneva Medical College, accepted her accidentally—the faculty couldn’t reach a decision regarding her admission, so they put it to a vote of the students who thought it was a joke and therefore voted to let her in.
Even after Elizabeth had a medical degree, people thought she couldn’t possibly be as talented as a male doctor. But she kept studying, kept learning and healing wherever she could. And in doing so, she changed society.
Bridget, you live in an extraordinary time, a time where you have the option to become a doctor. Or a professor. Or a pilot. Without disguising yourself as a male.
When you’re old enough, you can own property and vote and be elected to a political office.
Your potential is limitless because women like Elizabeth Blackwell fought against gender prejudice to show society females are just as intelligent and hard-working as their male peers.
That potential can be overwhelming sometimes. You have so many options, it’s exhausting to filter through them. Believe me, I know. I’ve been down more career paths than most and it wasn’t until I was partway down them that I realized they weren’t right. So take your time. Don’t let anyone force you into making an important decision when you’re not absolutely sure.
But when you do figure it out, when you identify the path that thrills you and consumes you and makes you feel like it is the reason you’re in this world, pursue it with your whole soul. Don’t let any obstacles stand in your way or any disappointments dissuade you.
Elizabeth didn’t. She accomplished what so many had told her was simply impossible.
May you find strength in her example, Bridget. May you never accept people’s opinions about your potential as fact. And when you find a locked door blocking your way, kick it down.
Maybe the door you break down will provide following generations with new opportunities. Or maybe it’ll be just for you. What matters is that you don’t let obstacles stop you, even when your dreams seem impossible.
What’s Dear Bridget all about? It’s a new series, composed of letters to a hypothetical teen girl named Bridget. Why Bridget? It means strong. And it represents the current generation of young women. These letters are my attempt to break through the chaos and the crap that’s flying at today’s young woman in order to offer advice and encouragement, from me and other incredible women who remember what it was like to be in her shoes.