BLACKWELL, Dr Elizabeth. ~ Three letters to her from: Florence Nightingale, George Eliot and novelist Dinah Mulock, together with photographic portraits. 1859-1907.
LINKING KEY FIGURES IN THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY REFORM MOVEMENTS, THE THREE LETTERS HERE ARE ADDRESSED TO MEDICAL PIONEER ELIZABETH BLACKWELL, THE FIRST WOMAN TO RECEIVE A MEDICAL DEGREE IN AMERICA AND THE FIRST TO BE ENTERED ON THE BRITISH MEDICAL REGISTER. Blackwell’s old acquaintance, Florence Nightingale, writes to her in an apparently unpublished letter of 1871 of the difficulties of public health projects, which would involve: ‘going, for instance, into all the back slums of London & other towns – practically learning & teaching there what constitutes the health of dwellings, the health of children, the health of populations, of occupations &c.’ Twelve years earlier (1859) her cousin George Eliot, signing herself in her assumed name of Marian Lewes, responds to an appeal by feminist pioneer Barbara Bodichon by forwarding her letter to Elizabeth Blackwell, while novelist Dinah Mulock thanks Blackwell for a ticket to one of her lectures.
The documents were collected by a Mrs Denniss, perhaps given to her by Blackwell herself as a memento and include three excellent photographic portraits, including a magisterial print by Elliott & Fry. Comprising:
1. NIGHTINGALE, Florence. Autograph letter, signed ‘Florence Nightingale’ to Miss [Elizabeth] Blackwell. [August 2], 1871. ‘Nothing that you do, independently of our being old friends, can fail to interest me’. She states the business of bringing everyone, ‘the little as well as the big’ to understand the ‘Laws of Life’ is the first business of everybody. However, she expresses doubt that it can be achieved in the way Blackwell has suggested is possible: ‘Sanitary work of this kind can only be done by going personal grappling with the evils by going personally among those for whom it is to be done – going, for instance, into all the back slums of London & other towns – practically learning & teaching there what constitutes the health of dwellings, the health of children, the health of populations, of occupations &c.’ Nightingale had known each other since 1850, though their medical careers took diverging paths, Nightingale achieving celebrity for her work in the Crimean war, while Blackwell established her medical practice (against considerable odds) in America. By 1871, she had been back in England over twenty years pursuing her campaign for women’s medicine, by which time Nightingale was largely confined to her bed through illness. Two-and-a-half pages on a bifolium (black edged, leaf size 205 × 130 mm), folded twice, envelope addressed in Nightingale’s hand to Blackwell in London [redirected to Cornwall], marked ‘Private’, penny stamp, postally marked at London, Matlock and Penzance.
2. LEWES, Marian. [Mary Ann EVANS, ‘George ELIOT’]. Autograph letter, signed, to Dr [Elizabeth] Blackwell. Holly Lodge, Wimbledon Park, Wandsworth, Ap[ril] 16, 1859. ‘Being unable myself to respond to Barbara [Bodichon]’s appeal in the enclosed letter [not present], I obey her wish by forwarding it to you’. This short letter was written in the year Adam Bede was published, and two months after Eliot had moved to Holly Lodge with her partner George Henry Lewes, already married with children. It refers to ‘Barbara’s appeal’ ― almost certainly Barbara Bodichon, a mutual friend of Eliot and Blackwell, then engaged in several campaigns for women’s health, employment and suffrage. One page (177 × 115 mm), two lateral folds.
3. MULOCK, Dinah Maria. [later Dinah CRAIK]. Autograph letter to Dr Elizabeth Blackwell. Wildwood, North End, Hampstead, 29 Feb[ruary], 1859. Presenting compliments and thanking her for the ticket for the lectures, which she must forgo on grounds of health, but will pass on to a young friend. Mulock’s best-known novel John Halifax, Gentleman had appeared in 1856, followed by A Woman’s Thoughts about Women (1857) and A Life for a Life (1857), the latter arguing for a single moral standard for both women and men, and for the equivalency of their strengths. One-and-a-half pages on a small bifolium (112 × 90 mm).
4. BLACKWELL, Dr Elizabeth. Photographic portrait by Elliott & Fry, London, 1907. (147 × 98 mm), original publisher’s mount. Verso inscribed ‘To Mrs Denniss’ [not autograph] and in a later hand: ‘Dr Blackwell in August 1907 – 84 and a half years’.
5. ― Photographic print after the portrait drawing of 1859 by the Comtesse de Charnacée, a later reproduction of a photographic print by Swain, J. H. Blomfield, Hastings. (Oval 88 × 58 mm) publisher’s mount. Inscribed on verso: ‘…1859 the year Dr Blackwell was placed on the British Medical Register’.
6. ― Photographic print, reproduced from the portrait of 1888 and issued by W. A. Thomas, Hastings. (138 × 95 mm).
7. ― Photograph of Rock House, Hastings. (120 × 160), faded and creased.
8. ― Photogravure print of Blackwell’s grave and memorial at Kilamun, Holy Loch, Argyleshire. (200 × 138), soon after 1907. Frayed at head.