Woman's Medical College - 1883
The history of Women's College Hospital began in 1883 with the founding of Woman's Medical College. This came in response to the refusal of medical schools in Toronto to admit women for the study of medicine.
On June 13, 1883, Dr. Emily Stowe – a suffragist and first Canadian woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada – led a group of her supporters to a meeting at the Toronto Women's Suffrage Club. At that meeting, the group tabled a resolution stating "that medical education for women is a recognized necessity, and consequently facilities for such instruction should be provided." The motion was seconded adding "that the establishment of such a school was a public necessity and in the interests of the community."
Less than six months after this meeting, on October 1, 1883, Toronto Mayor A.R. Boswell formally opened Woman's Medical College, at 289 Sumach Street.
Ontario Medical College for Women - 1895
In 1895 the College amalgamated with its sister institution in Kingston, Ont., and changed its name to the Ontario Medical College for Women. In order for students to gain practical clinical experience, a clinic called the dispensary was opened in Toronto in 1898. The clinic also filled a social void in the community by enabling female patients to obtain the unique services of women doctors in a field that was dominated by men. Services were provided regardless of the patient's ability to pay and medical advice was always free.
In the landmark year, 1906, the University of Toronto opened its doors to permit women to study medicine, and the Ontario Medical College for Women closed. The dispensary remained open and continued to prosper in the city.
Women's College Hospital and Dispensary - 1909
In 1909, a group of prominent Toronto women formed the Women's College Hospital Committee. They sought to develop a hospital and amalgamate it with the dispensary. This goal was achieved in 1911 with the opening of a new hospital at 18 Seaton Street. The committee was transformed into the hospital's board of governors, and the medical institution was incorporated as Women's College Hospital and Dispensary on December 13, 1913.
The modest hospital opened with only seven beds, but the concept of a hospital run by women, for women, was an unqualified success. The first hospital soon operated at capacity.
A second hospital opened at 125 Rusholme Road on July 17, 1915. It soon replaced the first building. This new hospital was located in a three-storey house, and had 25 beds and 10 cots for children. The increased number of beds encouraged the hospital to offer specialized treatment in a number of areas. In 1920, Dr. Elizabeth Stewart, Canada's first trained woman radiologist, opened an x-ray department. Dr. Vivian Laughlin opened a pathology department and Dr. Edna Guest began a venereal diseases clinic for women. With the move to its new location, the hospital began to take on a life of its own. On February 5, 1924, the name of the hospital was officially changed to Women's College Hospital.
Women's College Hospital - 1928
During the 1920s, the Women's College Hospital board of governors began planning for the development of a well-designed modern hospital that would be able to offer "better and more far-reaching service to women patients in the city." The board of governors also held a clear vision of where Women's College fit in the hospital world. It began fostering the idea of an eventual association with a university. In 1928, the Women's College Hospital Building Fund kicked off its successful campaign to raise $750,000 to build a modern hospital using the slogan "How Long Shall They Be Turned Away?"
Expansion and Recognition - 1956 (South Wing) and 1971(East Wing)
In the years that followed, Women's College Hospital underwent two major expansions. The first was the addition of the South Wing, which opened on October 13, 1956. The second was the addition of the East Wing, which Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau officially opened on June 23, 1971.
The year 1961 marked two radical changes in Women's College Hospital:
In October 1999, Parks Canada recognized Women's College Hospital as a historical site of national significance.
Sunnybrook & Women's - 1998
In June 1998, the Ontario government passed a Special Act of Legislation (Bill 51) creating Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre (Sunnybrook & Women's). This new health organization amalgamated three formerly stand-alone institutions:
The amalgamated Sunnybrook & Women's became fully affiliated with the University of Toronto. In August 1999, the Women's College Hospital was renamed the Women's College Ambulatory Care Centre, through a joint agreement between Women's College and Sunnybrook.
Women's College Hospital - 2006
On August 18, 2005, The Honourable George Smitherman, Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, announced that Women's College Hospital would again become a self-governed health-care facility, and would separate from what was then called Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre. He further announced that Women's College Hospital would be officially recognized as a Centre of Excellence in Women's Health
Women's College Hospital began operating independently under the Public Hospitals Act on April 1, 2006.
In many respects, the history of Women's College Hospital is the history of women and health care in Canada. For information and artifacts tracing this truly fascinating history, please visit the Miss Margaret Robins Archives of Women's College Hospital.
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