WCH CONNECTJune 3, 2019

Uncommon practice: Women’s College Hospital and sexual healthcare

  • June 3, 2019


“I feel fortunate to have practiced medicine at a time when a revolution in women’s healthcare was occurring.” - Dr. Marion Powell

This past year, the Miss Margaret Robins Archives of Women’s College Hospital (WCH) worked with four talented students from the University of Toronto’s Museum Studies program to develop a timely exhibit in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the legalization of birth control in Canada. Curated by Lucy Beale, Emma Franco-Toner, Nicole Kolkman and Emily Williams, Uncommon Practice: Women’s College Hospital and Sexual Healthcare in the 20th Century, examines the history of birth control in Canada and WCH’s contributions in the advancement of reproductive rights for women.

For most of the 20th century, the Canadian Criminal Code prohibited the sale and advertisement of “any medicine, drug or article intended or represented as a means of preventing contraception.” Those found guilty of this offence could face two years in prison. It was not until June 1969 that legislation repealing this section of the Criminal Code became law.

Throughout this journey, trailblazers like WCH’s Dr. Marion Hilliard (1902-1958) and Dr. Marion Powell (1923-1997) publicly stressed the importance of sex education and advocated for greater access to sexual and reproductive health services. Even after the decriminalization of contraception in Canada, WCH was instrumental in ensuring that all women in the community had access to birth control, sexual and reproductive information, and counselling through the establishment of the Bay Centre for Birth Control – Toronto’s first hospital-supported, walk-in family planning clinic.

Using historical photographs, artifacts, textual records and film, the Archives’ newest exhibit provides a unique look at the history of WCH’s many contributions in the long struggle for women to legally access birth control and to gain greater control over their own fertility. Uncommon Practice: Women’s College Hospital and Sexual Healthcare in the 20th Century can be viewed on the sixth floor of WCH.

Dr. Marion Powell
Dr. Marion Powell (right) with staff from the Bay Centre for Birth Control, 1984


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