Determination is the core character trait for the month of March. Whether it be graduating or accomplishing some other goal, determination is what enables students to hold fast and live out the other virtues.

What is Determination?

Proposing to accomplish the right goal at the right time regardless of the opposition.

Where does the word come from?

Word etymology:  Determination originates from the Latin de– meaning, “to limit or fix completely” and terminare meaning “to finish or bring to completion.” Determination is recognizing or pursuing the goal that will bring a project to completion.

Determination in Action: Elizabeth Blackwell

In 1847, a time before women could vote, it took immense determination for Elizabeth Blackwell to become the first woman to receive her medical degree in the United States. While other women had practiced medicine in the past, none had ever completed formal training and received a medical degree. Elizabeth’s determination was not driven by a desire to prove a point, but by the realization that she could help a lot of people as a doctor.

While still a 24-year-old schoolteacher, she visited a friend dying of cancer. Her friend confided in Elizabeth that her suffering would have been made easier if she had had a female doctor who might have lived with some of the issues she was facing. She asked Elizabeth to consider devoting her talent to serving women like her. After struggling with the idea for some time, Elizabeth made up her mind. She was going to dedicate herself to improving medical treatment for women.

Her first obstacle to completing medical school was money. Even then, medical school was
expensive.  To raise the funds she needed, Elizabeth continued to teach. When she was not teaching, she studied medical books with the help of sympathetic physicians.

After raising the funds, Elizabeth faced a new challenge. No medical school would accept a woman. She received 29 rejection letters before she finally was accepted to Geneva Medical College in western New York. The dean of the school had put her acceptance up to a vote by the all-male student body. Thinking it was a joke, they voted yes unanimously.  

Elizabeth started medical school in the fall of 1847. Gradually gaining the respect of her classmates, 28-year-old Elizabeth graduated with her medical degree in 1849 at the top of her class.

She had made history and received her medical license, but she was unable to find a hospital that would allow her to work as a physician. Still determined, Elizabeth sailed to Europe to find work. Rejected from hospitals in England, the country of her birth, she finally found work at La Maternite, a hospital in Paris. While she was only allowed to work as a student midwife, Elizabeth was resolved to not let it keep her from pursuing her goal to be recognized as the physician she was trained to be.

In 1851, she finally returned home to New York City, and worked to open her own practice. She opened a clinic in the slums of New York City with the help of her sister Emily, who, inspired by Elizabeth, earned her medical degree in 1853. Eventually the two raised enough support to open The New York Infirmary for Women and Children, which still operates today.

Gaining recognition in the areas of gynecology and pediatrics, Elizabeth spent a year lecturing in the United Kingdom and became the first woman to have her name on the British medical register. Recognizing the growing interest of women to pursue medical careers, Elizabeth dreamed of starting a women’s medical college, which she launched after the Civil War ended through her New York Infirmary for Women and Children. It was one of the first medical schools in the U.S to require four years of study. While she faced considerable opposition throughout her career, Elizabeth gained great respect for her work. Beyond opening the medical field for women, Elizabeth also made significant contributions to preventative medicine and sanitation. When she died in 1910, more than 7,000 licensed women physicians were practicing in the United States.

Quotes From Elizabeth Blackwell

“It is not easy to be a pioneer but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world.” – Elizabeth Blackwell

“The idea of winning a doctor’s degree gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed immense attraction for me.” – Elizabeth Blackwell

“None of us can know what we are capable of until we are tested.” – Elizabeth Blackwell

Noble work! Welcome struggle, suffering, torture even, if our path lie through them; struggle will be bliss, suffering will be angels’ food, if only so we may accomplish our destiny, and fulfill a Divine use.”       – Elizabeth Blackwell

“My mind is fully made up. I have not the slightest hesitation on the subject; the thorough study of medicine, I am quite resolved to go through with. The horrors and disgusts I have no doubt of vanquishing. I have overcome stronger distastes than any that now remain, and feel fully equal to the contest.” – Elizabeth Blackwell

Discussion Questions

  • Elizabeth Blackwell faced great opposition. How was she able to accomplish her goals?
  • What are some of the positive effects of Elizabeth Blackwell’s determination?
  • Determination is proposing to accomplish the right goal at the right time regardless of the opposition. What does right goals mean? What does right time mean? Can some goals be wrong goals?
  • What are some of your goals? How can you practice determination to help you accomplish those goals?
  • What are some challenges you face in meeting your goals? What are some things you can do to overcome those challenges?
  • Who are people you know who have demonstrated determination? How can you imitate them?
  • What are the benefits of determination?

Resources

Click to read about Wisdom, the character trait of September.

Click to read about Justice, the character trait of October.

Click to read about Endurance, the character trait of November.

Click to read about Self-Control, the character trait of December.

Click to read about Love, the character trait of January.

Click to read about Integrity, the character trait of February.

 

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