Dr. Emily Stowe - The Trailblazer

2018-09-28 5:00:07 PM

Dr. Emily Stowe was the first woman physician to practice medicine in Canada.

In 1869, Emily Stowe applied to the University of Toronto requesting to enroll in its chemistry and physiology classes. The response?

The doors of the University are not open to women and I trust they will never be.”
-  John McCaul, President of University College

According to the account, Dr. Stowe responded, “Then I will make it the business of my life to see that they will be opened, that women may have the same opportunities as men.”

This was not the first time that Dr. Stowe had faced discrimination based on her gender. Back in the early 1860s, when she decided to pursue a career in medicine, no medical school in Toronto would accept a female student. At the time, it was generally accepted that women could not mentally and emotionally handle the stress of medical work. Undeterred, she left Canada and entered the New York Medical School for Women. After graduating in 1867, Dr. Stowe returned to Toronto and set up a private practice — becoming Canada’s first female physician.

By the 1880s, very little had changed for women in Canada who wanted to enroll in medical school. However, now with a daughter of her own trying to pursue a career as a physician, Dr. Stowe was determined to open her own medical college for women in Toronto. With male and female supporters at her side, Dr. Stowe held a public meeting in Shaftesbury Hall on June 13, 1883. At the meeting it was resolved that "medical education for women is a recognized necessity, and consequently facilities for such instruction should be provided." It was added that "the establishment of such a school was a public necessity and in the interests of the community."

Dr. Stowe’s vision became a reality on October 1, 1883, when the doors to Woman’s Medical College in Toronto officially opened – a precursor to Women’s College Hospital (WCH). Today, the word “college” proudly remains in our name to pay homage to our beginnings as a medical college for women. 


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