Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Elizabeth Blackwell Letters, 1850-1884

Series II: Letter from Bessie Parkes to Barbara Leigh Smith

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Box 1 Folder 2 Letter from Bessie Parkes (later Mrs Belloc) to Barbara Leigh Smith (later Mme Bodichon). Compton Terrace, November 13, 1850

Dearly beloved Barbarose,

Language cannot tell you what an exceedingly jolly brick Miss Blackwell, or the evening spent with her yesterday from 41/2 to 81/2

At first we sat down by the fire as we both like unlighted candles, & then she asked my history which I told her in no time, & then I did not like to ask her for hers as I did not know her, but presently the conversation turned that way & then she began

Such tale! Of energy, & hope; of repulses from men, & scorn of her own countrywomen. (During her 2 years residence in Geneva, the college town, not Geneva lady would call, or speak to her)

Of the glorious day when in a church crowded from ceiling to floor the chief professor after giving the Diplomas to the young men, called her up alone, & rising from his seat & lifting his cap gave her the title of Dr Blackwell. Of the cheers sounding all through the church, & the recanting of all the stupid ladies, who formed in a body at the door & let her & her brother walk thro in a sort of triumphal procession, & of the calls they all paid that afternoon. She left next day. Of the physical hardship of 4 months in the Maternity hospital at Paris, sleeping in a dortoire with 30 coarse girls & women learning to be midwifes, whose noise & vulgarity are beyond description - (Think of that my dainty darling)

Of the terrible opthalmia (sic) caught from a little boy she brought into the world & was attending & syringing, of the 3 weeks all she said she must be blind; of her Graffenberg stay, her relapse, & a blind journey from Graffenberg to Paris all alone, just able to open one eye for a blink of 5 seconds, of the terrible operation, & her now tolerable sight which will improve.

Ever your Bessie.