Women's College Hospital - Health Care for Women, Revolutionized

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Who Was Dr. Marion Powell?

Dr. Marion Powell

Known as the "mother of birth control in Canada," Dr. Marion Powell was a physician, longstanding activist and leader in the field of women's health. Throughout her career, Dr. Powell enhanced the consciousness of a generation in the field of sex education and birth control, with a humanitarian concern for the health of women.

Graduating with a medical degree from the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto in 1946, a diploma in public health from the school of hygiene at the University of Toronto, and an FRCPC in community medicine, Dr. Powell went on to intern at Women's College Hospital and at Toronto General Hospital.

Her career path next led her to a teaching position at St. Mary's Hospital in Timmins, Ontario, a family practice out of a presbyterian church and to another family practice in Japan, where she and her husband went to serve as missionaries. In 1960, she and her husband returned to Canada and Dr. Powell started another general practice in Scarborough, Ontario.

In 1966, Dr. Powell was appointed medical officer of health for the City of Scarborough and successfully lobbied for wider access to birth control and family planning. She was responsible for establishing the first municipally funded birth control clinic in Canada. This clinic had no hospital affiliation and served women regardless of age or marital status. She was also responsible for the development of a health- and sex-education curriculum for the Scarborough Board of Education, which became a model for other school boards across Canada.

Dr. Powell was next appointed as a professor of the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto in 1972. She would hold this position until her retirement in 1988. Dr. Powell taught medical students about sexuality and women's health. A cross-appointment also enabled her to teach graduate students in the fields of nursing, pharmacy, and physical and health education. Dr. Powell influenced a generation of medical professionals to take a more responsive and caring approach towards the health-care needs of women.

In 1981, Dr. Powell became the director of Women's College Hospital's Bay Centre for Birth Control, a position she also held until her retirement. Under her directorship, the range of services available at the Centre broadened to include high-school sex education, programs for single mothers, information about pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), counselling related to sexuality, contraceptive research, and staff education.

Over the course of her career, Dr. Powell was presented with numerous awards including the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award (1984), Persons Award (1988) by the Honourable Barbara McDougall, Order of Canada (1990) and the Gardiner Award (1994), in recognition of her contributions to the development and well-being of the Metro Toronto community.

Dr. Marion Powell died in 1997 at the age of 74. The Marion Powell Award in women's health began in 1995 and was awarded annually until 2004 to individuals who demonstrated strong leadership and dedication to women's health.

Dr. Powell left all of her research papers as well as her personal library to Women's College Hospital. The books she once owned now line the shelves of one wall of the Miss Margaret Robins Archives of Women's College Hospital. One of the libraries within the hospital, the Marion Powell Women's Health Information Centre, was named for her.

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