Maria Bellova – the first Slovak doctor fought against disease and prejudice

With the beginning of the 20th century, major changes were taking place in the field of medicine. With this, there was a growing interest in medical work. This was also the case for women but they had to fight for their position in hospitals. This is confirmed by the story of Maria Bellova. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, women in white coats were rather the exception in several European countries. Slovak patients were also waiting for their first doctor. Many women have shown an interest in their treatment but their desire for a medical mission has been frustrated by prejudice. Maria Bellova, however, has chosen to face up to the disadvantages of the social situation at the time and to win the right to seek treatment. 

Her father was her biggest supporter

A native of Liptovsky St. Petra was born in 1885 into the family of the Evangelical vicar S. Bell. It was her father who played a key role in Mary’s medical mission. It all started with a home study of Latin, followed by a local school and an extra lyceum study at Banská Štiavnica, which the girls were unable to attend at the time. Mary only went to school for exams, which she always did well. After graduation, she decided to study medicine. Even then, her father played an important role, taking advantage of the contacts and getting her to the medical faculty in Budapest, despite the lack of school management. 

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She wanted to help the sick

A courageous student felt the desire to become a doctor at an early age. She had always wanted a job that she could help with, and it was the medical profession that seemed to her to be the best form of help. The watershed moment was the sight of sick Liptov natives returning from construction work in Budapest with tuberculosis. The disease then spread to their families, and many succumbed to it due to lack of health care. After that experience, she was determined to devote her life to medical work, even though she knew she would have to fight for it. 

She wasn’t fighting only against diseases

The first difficult moments came immediately during her studies in Budapest, where she joined four other women in 1905. Unlike these female students, she was in a rather more difficult position, to which the Slovak nationality subscribed. Not only did the professors not trust that the woman could handle anatomical studies, they often made her feel that Slovak students did not possess the intellect that Hungarian students did. The situation was further exacerbated by the national and emancipation activities organized by students from Slovakia. In spite of all the prejudices and ridicule, in 1910 she successfully graduated, making her the first Slovakian woman to receive a general practitioner’s degree.

Medical career of Maria Bellova: 

– after graduating from Pécsi, she worked in Psychiatry for more than a year 

– After stopping in Pécsi, she spent half a year in surgery in Trenčín 

– In 1913, she worked as an intern in Berlin 

– In addition to her experience, she completed study visits to Paris and Brussels

– subsequently embarked on a medical career in the Romanian Targu Mures 

– was a military doctor in Romania during World War I

– in 1920 she returned to Slovakia to hospital in Košice 

– 5 years later, she joined a TB treatment facility in the Tatras

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She specialized in tuberculosis

Maria Bellova’s desire to help people suffering from tuberculosis finally came true. After years of experience and a medical career, she began to suffer from lung problems, which led her to accept a job in Dolny Smokovec where she joined the CBC Children’s Institute in 1925. She first worked as a regular child doctor looking after sick children but later took the place of the primary responsible for running the entire institution. However, aid to sick children filled her, so she stayed in the High Tatras until 1957, when she retired and moved to a family in Moravia, where she lived for 16 years.

In 1973, Maria Bellova´s life story was over. However, as an inspiration to young doctors, she is still an example to this day. The native of Liptov was not only the first Slovak doctor. In particular, she is honored by her working attitude and her willingness to devote herself fully to her mission, which has made her one of the best medical years not only in Slovakia.


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