Jennie Trout (April 21, 1841 – November 10, 1921) and Emily Stowe (May 1, 1831 – April 29, 1903) were both activists for women’s rights and suffrage, and campaigned for Canada‘s first medical college for women. But even more impressive, they were both the first two women to practice medicine in Canada! Their stories intertwine, so I’ll include both stories here.
Emily Stowe was born in Norwich Township, Oxford County, Ontario. At the age of 15, she became a teacher at a simple one-room schoolhouse in Summerville. After about seven years, she became entangled in a public struggle for admission to Victoria College in Cobourg, Ontario, for the simple reason that she was a woman. Then, in November 1853, she applied at the Normal School of Upper Canada; she graduated with first-class honours in 1854. Soon afterwards, she was hired as a principal in a Brantford, Ontario public school; she became the first woman to become a principal of a public school in Upper Canada.
In 1856, she married John Michael Stowe. In the next seven years, she had three children. Shortly after the birth of her third child, her husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and was sent to a sanatorium. This led Stowe to renew an interest in medicine.
In 1865, she was denied entrance into the Toronto School of Medicine. The school’s Vice President said, “The doors of the University are not open to women, and I trust they never will be.” So she attended and graduated from the homoeopathic New York Medical College. She then returned to Canada and opened a practice in Toronto, Ontario.
Jennie Trout (sometimes spelled Jenny) was born in Kelso, Scotland, and moved to Canada with her parents in 1847, settling near Stratford, Ontario. She attended school, graduated, and went on to take a course in teaching. She taught up until her marriage to Edward Trout in 1865. Two years later, she moved to Toronto, where her husband ran a newspaper.
Motivated by her chronic illness, a “nervous disorder” that often left her almost an invalid, Trout decided on a medical career.
In 1870, both women fought together to attend classes at the Toronto School of Medicine. They were allowed to attend, by special arrangement, on the condition that they agreed “not to make a fuss.”
They didn’t have an easy time of it. The professors and male students alike made their lives very difficult. One way they caused “a fuss” for the women was by telling smutty stories. So disgusting the stories were that Trout told one student that if he continued with these stories within earshot, she would tell his wife exactly what he was saying. That seemed to work, as there were no more stories like that.
Emily Stowe chose to ignore the licensing requirements of taking a written and oral exam. She started a private practice and ran it for thirteen years; and it’s entirely possible she paid the $100 penalty, no one knows how many times, for not having qualified to practice medicine in Canada. She was forty-nine when her license was finally granted in 1880.
Jenny Trout, however, did take the exam, and graduated in 1875. She became the first Canadian woman licensed to practise medicine.
Each of these women pursued their intention of having a career in medicine at a time when it was unthinkable for women to entertain the thought. They each accomplished their goals, each in their own way.
I’ve picked here and there for this story. Mainly three sources: The first is Rootsweb Ancestry, a well-written article written by Lois Bradley, I believe; the second source is a wonderful book, Just a minute: Glimpses of our great Canadian heritage, the first book in the Heritage series; and finally, Wikipedia – for Emily Stowe and Jenny Trout.