Black History Month – Celebrating WCH School of Nursing’s First Black Nursing Graduate

February 14, 2022
black and white photo of nurse Agnes Clinton from 1951

As WCH celebrates Black History and Futures Month, the WCH Archives will continue to bring to light the inspiring stories of those Black Canadians from our history who have made meaningful contributions to our hospital and to our community. This week, we celebrate Agnes Clinton – the first Black nursing graduate at the WCH School of Nursing.

After graduating from high school at Harbord Collegiate in Toronto, Agnes Clinton worked as a medical clerk at the Christie Street Hospital. It was there that she decided to pursue a career in nursing. Clinton applied to many nursing schools in the city, however no school would accept her. “They said I was too tall, too big, would do better somewhere else, or some other excuse,” she explained.

On the advice of a doctor’s wife at the hospital, Clinton applied to the WCH School of Nursing. She was accepted and entered the three-year nursing program in 1948. At WCH, Clinton developed great friendships with her classmates and acquired a passion for surgical nursing.

On June 1, 1951, Clinton became the first Black nursing student to graduate from the WCH School of Nursing. In celebration of her accomplishment, the Home Service Association, a Black community organization in Toronto, held a fundraiser to raise money in her name for the hospital.

After graduating, Clinton continued to work as a nurse at WCH on its surgical floor. She then completed a public health nursing program at the University of Toronto and over the next 13 years, worked as a Public Health Nurse in the borough of East York. It was during this time that she completed an addictions medicines training at Yale University’s Summer School of Alcohol Studies – the first national training institution for alcohol addiction professionals in the United States.

Clinton accepted a position with the Detroit Health Department. There, she helped to establish the “Health Care for the Homeless” program. Aimed at improving healthcare for Detroit’s homeless population, the program was comprised of mobile medical teams that provided free healthcare in the city including pharmaceuticals, optometric services, dental care, and podiatric services. After 21 years, Clinton left Detroit’s health department but remained in the city. She worked for a community mental health program for people living with HIV and then as an intake nurse at a substance abuse treatment facility.

She kept in touch with her WCH classmates and even made the drive each year from Detroit to Toronto to attend the WCH’s Nursing Alumnae Association’s annual dinner. Agnes Clinton died in Detroit on January 28, 2004. She is remembered by her classmates for her wonderful sense of humour and for embracing life to its fullest.

This Black History and Futures Month, we celebrate the achievements of Agnes Clinton who dedicated her nursing career to helping society’s most vulnerable populations.

In 2020, the Women’s College Hospital Foundation (WCHF) launched the Agnes Clinton Fund to support Black researchers and students at WCH. As part of the WCHF’s Emily Stowe Society, the Agnes Clinton Fund is dedicated to breaking down barriers to careers in health sciences research for bright young minds. In Canada today, women – particularly Black women – continue to be underrepresented at all levels of the health sciences field. Without equity in the health research community, we simply cannot achieve equity in healthcare.

To learn more about the Agnes Clinton Fund and the Emily Stowe Society please contact the WCHF at: or (416) 323-6323.