This Week in History

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Women Doctors

For the week of Monday September 27, 1999

On October 1, 1883 Emily Stowe opened the Women's Medical College in Toronto. One day later Jenny Trout launched the Kingston Women's Medical College. Both pioneered the entry of Canadian women into the medical profession.

Emily Stowe

Emily Stowe
© Courtesy of Margaret E. Robins / Archives of Women's
College Hospital Foundation

At that time, women worked mostly in the home, helping to support their families and caring for children, the elderly and even neighbours. Women thus gained much experience in practical health care. Many made herbal medicines, nursed the sick and helped other women give birth. Yet, the professional role of licensed physician was reserved for men. Indeed, medical schools in Canada would not even admit women!

Some women decided to challenge these barriers. Emily Stowe was the first. After being refused admission to the Toronto School of Medicine, Stowe went to the New York Medical College for Women. She returned to Toronto and established a medical practice. In 1871, in an effort to obtain her medical licence, Stowe joined Jenny Trout in attending one semester at the Toronto School of Medicine, but the two women were taunted by angry male students. Trout went instead to the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. She returned to Toronto and became the first woman in Canada to pass the College of Physicians and Surgeon's licensing exam. She opened a private medical practice and provided a free medical dispensary for the poor. Stowe continued to practice without a licence until 1880.

Women's Medical College, 1883

Women's Medical College, 1883
© Courtesy of Margaret E. Robins / Archives of Women's
College Hospital Foundation

Trout and Stowe both established Women's Medical Colleges to give Canadian women a supportive place to study medicine. The two institutions merged in 1895 to become the Ontario Medical College for Women. This inspired the creation of the Women's College Hospital, a leader in women's medical care and education.

Meanwhile, Stowe's experiences had taught her that improvements in women's status were needed. She founded the Toronto Women's Literary Social and Science Club, which later became the Canadian Women's Suffrage Association. It helped Canadian women obtain the vote.

Dr. Jenny Trout and Dr. Emily Stowe were designated as nationally significant for bringing medical education to Canadian women, and Stowe for her suffrage leadership. The Women's College Hospital has also been recognized for enhancing medical care and medical education for women.

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