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Dr. Jenny Trout: Licensed to Cure

For the Week of Monday, October 2, 2017

On October 2, 1883, Dr. Jenny Trout opened the Kingston Women’s Medical College. A Canadian medical pioneer, Trout broke down barriers to medical treatment and professional achievement for women.

Dr. Jenny Kidd Trout, ca. 1890s. Trout was born in Kelso, Scotland, in 1841 and six years later came to Canada with her family. She was raised on a farm in Ellice Township, Canada West (now rural Ontario)
Park Bros., Toronto / Library and Archives Canada / PA-212242

Trout decided to pursue a career in medicine after spending six years, beginning in 1865, suffering from debilitating “nervous disorders.” She was encouraged by fellow pioneer, Emily Stowe, who attended a one-year qualifying course with Trout at the Toronto School of Medicine in 1871-72. Both completed the course despite open hostility from faculty members and students, who opposed such training for women. However, they were unable to continue their studies in Canada, as women could not enroll as full-time students in the country’s medical colleges.

Instead, Trout attended the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Graduating in 1875, she returned to Canada and became the country’s first registered female doctor. That year, the new doctor opened a practice in Toronto with Emily Amelia Tefft. In 1877, they established the Medical and Electro-Therapeutic Institute, specializing in treatments using electricity, generally referred to as electrotherapy. The institute was popular and they opened branches in Hamilton and Brantford, Ontario. However, it proved unprofitable. Running the Institute strained Trout’s fragile health so she retired from her medical practice at age 41.

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Women’s College Hospital in Toronto has been providing medical care for women by women for more than a century. The current building, pictured above, was built in 1935
© Parks Canada 1995 / Leslie Maitland

Doctor Trout did continue to promote women’s medical education though. She played a leading role in the 1883 establishment of the Women’s Medical College in Kingston, Ontario. Like the one in Toronto, it only admitted female students. However, it faced increasing competition from other medical schools that had begun accepting women as full-time students in the 1890s. So, in 1894, the two schools merged, forming the Ontario Medical College for Women in Toronto. By 1898, its students were gaining more practical medical experience at a new adjunct facility, the Women’s College Hospital and Dispensary, which remained operational after the college closed in 1906.

Dr. Jenny Trout and Dr. Emily Stowe are designated national historic persons, and Women’s College Hospital is a designated national historic site. It is Women’s History Month! To learn more about women in Canadian medicine, read Special Delivery, Women Doctors and NONIA: A Welcome Addition to the Community! in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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