Our History

For more than 100 years, Women’s College Hospital has been developing revolutionary advances in healthcare. Today, we are building on the rich legacy of our courageous founders – women who refused to accept the status quo and who broke down barriers and pushed the boundaries in the pursuit of equity and excellence. Explore our history and key milestones.

Women’s College Hospital

The history of Women’s College Hospital began in 1883 with the founding of Woman’s Medical College. This came in as a 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 woman physician to practice medicine in Canada – led a group of supporters to a meeting at the Toronto Women’s Suffrage Club where the group tabled a resolution stating “that medical education for women is a recognized necessity, and consequently facilities for such instruction should be provided.” 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.

In 1895 the College changed its name to the Ontario Medical College for Women, and in 1898 a clinic called the dispensary was opened. The clinic 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 1909, a group of prominent Toronto women formed the Women’s College Hospital Committee, aiming 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 a definite success.

A second hospital opened at 125 Rusholme Road on July 17, 1915 and 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. On February 5, 1924, the name of the hospital was officially changed to Women’s College Hospital.

Women’s College Hospital moved to its current location in Toronto in 1935. In 1961 it became a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto, and the board amended the hospital’s bylaws to allow men to be appointed to medical staff, in the absence of a qualified woman.

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.

  • Emily Stowe – Dr. Emily Stowe became the first woman physician to practice medicine in Canada. She helped to establish Woman’s Medical College in 1883, Toronto’s first medical school for women, and a predecessor to Women’s College Hospital.
  • Jessie Gray – considered at the time to be one of the top cancer surgeons in North America, she was the first woman to earn a Master of Surgery degree in Canada
  • Marion Powell – a leader in raising consciousness in women’s sexual health
  • Henrietta Banting – spearheaded the use of mammography
  • Marion Hilliard – collaborated in the development of a simplified Pap test
  • Ricky Kanee Schachter – was the first woman to lead an academic division of dermatology
  • Minerva Reid – was the first female Chief of Surgery in North America