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Celebrating Dr. Emily Stowe's 150

July 10, 2017

By Heather Gardiner

Dr. Emily Stowe
Dr. Emily Stowe

While on July 1 we marked Canada’s 150th birthday, there is another important anniversary for us to celebrate. It was in July, 150 years ago, that Dr. Emily Stowe became the first woman physician to practice medicine in Canada.

After graduating from the New York Medical College for Women, Dr. Stowe returned to Toronto to open a private practice. On July 19, 1867, Dr. Stowe publicly advertised her services in The Globe newspaper. To avoid any confusion regarding her sex, she referred to herself in the ad as “Mrs. Dr. Stowe.” Once Dr. Stowe opened her doors to patients, she made Canadian history by becoming Canada’s first woman doctor.

In 1867, Dr. Stowe operated as a physician without a medical license. Although it was not illegal for women to practice medicine in Canada, it was very difficult for them to navigate the licensing system. In the 1860s, a new law passed in Canada requiring all doctors that received their medical training in the United States complete a medical education course at a Canadian university. Unfortunately for Dr. Stowe and for other Canadian women like her, no Canadian medical school at the time would allow women to enrol in courses—making it impossible for women to comply with the law. Undeterred, Dr. Stowe operated her practice for thirteen years in Toronto without a medical license. She was eventually granted one in 1880 by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.  

Dr. Stowe continued to challenge the existing system by helping to establish Woman’s Medical College in 1883, Toronto’s first medical school for women, and a predecessor to Women’s College Hospital.

In 1995, Parks Canada recognized Dr. Emily Stowe as a person of national historical significance. Her plaque, issued by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, is proudly displayed in front of Women’s College Hospital.


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