Photograph of Dr. Emily Stowe
Portrait of Dr. Emily Stowe on cabinet card, 188-. WCH Archives, L-02304.

“The doors of the University are not open to women, and I trust they will never be.” – John McCaul, President of University College

Dr. Emily Stowe received this response from the president of University College when she requested to enroll in its chemistry and physiology classes. According to the account, Dr. Stowe responded, “Then I will make it the business of my life to see that they will be opened, that women may have the same opportunities as men.”

This was not the first time that Dr. Emily Stowe had faced discrimination based on her gender. Back in the early 1860s, when she decided to pursue a career in medicine, no medical school in Toronto would accept a female student. At the time, it was generally accepted that women could not mentally and emotionally handle the stress of medical work. Undeterred, she left Canada and entered the New York Medical School for Women. After graduating in 1867, Dr. Stowe returned to Toronto and set up a private practice – becoming Canada’s first female physician.

By the 1880s, very little had changed for women in Canada who wanted to enroll in medical school. However, now with a daughter of her own trying to pursue a career as a physician, Dr. Emily Stowe was determined to open her own medical college for women in Toronto. With male and female supporters at her side, Dr. Stowe held a public meeting in Shaftesbury Hall on June 13, 1883. At the meeting it was resolved that “that medical education for women is a recognized necessity, and consequently facilities for such instruction should be provided.” It was added “that the establishment of such a school was a public necessity and in the interests of the community.”

Dr. Stowe’s vision became a reality on October 1, 1883, when the doors to Woman’s Medical College in Toronto officially opened – a precursor to Women’s College Hospital. Today, the word “college” proudly remains in our name to pay homage to our beginnings as a medical college for women.

Women’s College Hospital continues to strive for equity in everything we do. It is one of our corporate values. Just as Dr. Emily Stowe provided access for women to medical education, Women’s College Hospital is committed to ensuring that the communities we serve have equitable access to quality healthcare through our research, education, and practice.


Want to learn more about the Woman’s Medical College? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

Dr. Jessie Gray was the forerunner for women in the field of medicine. An outstanding and excellent surgeon she was noted for her numerous honours and endeavours. I am certain that her life will inspire more women and men to continue the work she so held at heart.” – Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, October 18, 1978.

Dr. Gray was Head of the WCH Department of Surgery from 1946-1965 and is remembered as Canada’s “First Lady of Surgery” in recognition of the many “firsts” she achieved throughout her medical career. She served as an inspiration to a new generation of female surgeons in Canada – proving in the first half of the 20th century that women could not only become surgeons but could also excel in this historically male-dominated field.

When WCH opened its doors in 1911, there were less than 200 female doctors practicing in all of Canada. Over the decades this number gradually increased, however there were still many medical fields that did not immediately welcome women. Women who trained to become obstetricians, paediatricians, and family doctors were often more readily accepted by the Canadian medical community and society, while surgery was seen to be “unwomanly” or “unfitting” for female doctors. Dr. Gray would later tease, “If you pin them down, they usually admit they don’t know why, unless it’s a feeling there is something dangerous about a woman with a knife in her hand.”

Dr. Gray graduated from the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Faculty of Medicine in 1934 and was the first woman to receive a gold medal for achieving the highest academic standing in a medical class at the University. Five years later she made history again when she became the first woman in Canada to earn a Master of Surgery degree and the first woman to graduate from UofT’s distinguished Gallie Course in General Surgery.

The following year she was appointed as the first female resident surgeon at Toronto General Hospital and then became the first female Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada in 1941. That year she also joined the staff of WCH and was later appointed its Head of Surgery in 1946.

Dr. Gray became the first female member of the Central Surgical Society of North America in 1948 and four years later she was the first woman to address the Annual Congress of the American College of Surgeons. Throughout her career, she published many academic papers on innovative operative techniques in gastrointestinal and cancer surgery and was considered one of the top four cancer surgeons in North America at the time.

Following her retirement from WCH, Dr. Gray was appointed to the newly established Science Council of Canada to help guide national policy and the direction of scientific research in the country. Dr. Gray was the first and only woman to be appointed to the 25-member council during its inaugural year in 1966.

Dr. Jessie Gray passed away on October 16, 1978, after a long illness. In a series of tributes to Dr. Gray, WCH’s Dr. Olive Ibberson hailed her as “a guiding force in the development of WCH” and WCH’s Dr. Elizabeth Forbes eulogized “This first woman of Canadian surgery earned the profound affection and respect of her friends, colleagues, and patients…. The contributions of this distinguished surgeon have enhanced the lives of many; her teachings will be long remembered.”

Want to learn more about Dr. Jessie Gray? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

Portrait of Dr. Jessie Gray, 196-. WCH Archives, L-00622. Photography by Herbert L. McDonald.
Dr. Henrietta Banting, 196-. WCH Archives, L-01995. Photograph by Gerald Campbell Studios.

A young Henrietta Ball had her sights set on becoming a medical researcher. Her role model was Marie Curie. Curie was a scientist who conducted pioneering research in radioactivity and became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Ball graduated with a biology degree from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick in 1932. She then worked as a laboratory technician at Saint John General Hospital. She was accepted to the University of Toronto (UofT) and earned a master’s degree in medical research in 1938. While working as a researcher at UofT’s Banting Institute, she met Dr. Frederick Banting. The two married in 1939.

Sadly, Dr. Frederick Banting died in a plane crash in 1941 while serving with the Canadian Army. Later that year, Henrietta Banting enrolled in UofT’s Faculty of Medicine. She graduated with a medical degree in 1945. After completing postgraduate training abroad, Dr. Banting returned to Canada. She joined the staff of Women’s College Hospital (WCH) in 1957. The following year she was appointed Director of the Cancer Detection Clinic (CDC) for women. Her position at the CDC enabled her to devote the rest of her life to the study and treatment of women’s cancers.

In March 1963, Dr. Banting and Dr. Elizabeth Forbes, Head of WCH’s Department of Radiology, started a new clinical study at the CDC. They wanted to discover if mammography could be used in the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. Before the 1960s, mammography was generally not used in Canada to diagnose breast cancer and there was little research on mammography for this use.

Over the next two years, more than 1,400 women took part in the study at the CDC. Each participant was screened for breast cancer using mammography.

In 1967, they published “An Assessment of Mammography” in the Journal of the Canadian Association of Radiologists. It was one of the first Canadian studies on mammography to be published. Their study proved that mammography was a valuable diagnostic tool when used alongside physical examinations to detect breast cancer. The work of Dr. Banting and Dr. Forbes influenced a new standard for women’s cancer screening in Canada.

Want to learn more about Dr. Henrietta Banting and WCH’s Cancer Detection Clinic? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

Former Head of the Department of Medicine at Women’s College Hospital (WCH), Dr. Jean Flatt Davey holds the distinction of being the first female doctor to be granted a commission in the medical branch of any Canadian armed forces.

Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1909, Davey desired to follow in the footsteps of her father, Dr. J. Edgar Davey, the medical officer of Hamilton and a military doctor who served as a lieutenant-colonel during WWI in a hospital in France.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Toronto (UofT) in 1933 and then graduated from its medical school in 1936. After completing a one-year residency at WCH specializing in internal medicine, Dr. Davey joined the staff of the hospital in 1939.

While at WCH, Dr. Davey was approached by military officials to assist with the war effort in the medical branch of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). In August 1941, she became the first female doctor to be granted a commission in the medical branch of any Canadian armed forces and the second woman to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Initially she was stationed in Ottawa with the rank of Flight Officer. Within a short period of time, she was promoted to Squadron Officer and oversaw the health of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Women’s Division. In addition to ensuring that each RCAF station had adequate medical care for women, she was responsible for creating military policies related to the physical standards of female enlistment and other relevant medical issues such as pregnancy.  As Squadron Officer, she would travel throughout Canada inspecting and reviewing RCAF bases and recruiting stations to ensure that each location met the appropriate medical standards for airwomen.

Dr. Davey served with the RCAF until her retirement from the military on May 9, 1945.  She then returned to WCH where she held the position of Associate Head of the Department of Medicine from 1945-1950 and then Head of the Department of Medicine from 1950-1965.

When WCH’s Department of Medicine became a teaching unit in affiliation with UofT in 1958, Dr. Davey became the first woman to head a Department of Medicine in a teaching hospital in Canada.

She then served as Director of Medical Teaching in WCH’s Outpatient Department from 1965 until her retirement in 1973. That year she was also awarded the Order of Canada in recognition of her outstanding contributions to medicine and to the Canadian military.

Want to learn more about Dr. Jean Davey? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

Dr. Jean Davey, 1964. WCH Archives L-01198. Photograph by John Reeves.
Portrait of Dr. F. Marguerite Hill, 198-. WCH Archives, L-00628.

A chance meeting with a well-known Women’s College Hospital (WCH) doctor forever changed the life of a young F. Marguerite Hill. After hearing Dr. Marion Hilliard speak about her career at a high school girls’ sports banquet, Hill knew that she wanted to become a doctor. And although the path that she took to achieve her dream was filled with twists and turns, she eventually got to her destination – making it more worthwhile.

At sixteen years old, Hill announced to her family that after graduating from North Toronto Collegiate, she was going to attend medical school. Unfortunately for Hill, her family was less than supportive. Her older sister told her father that “medicine is no career for a woman.” And her father agreed. At her family’s request she choose another field of study – psychology. Hill enrolled at the University of Toronto (UofT) and graduated with an honour’s degree in 1940. She then went on to complete a master’s degree in psychology the following year.

On the advice of one of Hill’s professors, in 1942 she enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC). She achieved the rank of captain and worked as a psychologist in the personnel division. In her role, she interviewed new recruits and found them suitable placements. In 1944 she was transferred to London to inspect facilities throughout Great Britain. Captain Hill was one of only a handful of women psychologists to serve overseas during the war.

At the end of World War II, Captain Hill was discharged from the military and returned home to her family in Toronto. She decided to return to school. Even after all these years, she still held on to her dream of becoming a doctor. Knowing that her family would not support her desire to attend medical school, at least financially, she decided to approach the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 1945, Canada had enacted the Veterans Rehabilitation Act that provided free post-secondary education for soldiers returning from the war. This was the opportunity that Hill had been waiting for all these years. She was going to attend medical school, with or without her family’s support.

She was accepted by UofT’s Faculty of Medicine and instead of exploring psychiatry, she decided to focus on internal medicine. To say Hill succeeded in the field of medicine, would be an understatement. She achieved the highest marks in her class of 190 men and 10 women and graduated as a gold medalist of the Class of 1952. After completing post-graduate work at the Banting Institute, in 1957 she was appointed as the first female head resident at Toronto General Hospital. One year later, she joined the staff of WCH. From 1965-1984 she served as Head of WCH’s Department of Medicine, becoming the second woman to hold the position at a UofT teaching hospital.

Under her leadership, the WCH Department of Medicine became a strong clinical and teaching unit. She was well-respected by her patients and colleagues for her patient-centric approach to care, a practice that continues today. Although Dr. F.M. Hill passed away in 2012, her legacy continues at WCH through its annual F.M. Hill Lecture.

It is difficult to imagine what WCH would be like today without the influence of Dr. F.M. Hill – A great medical career that began with a chance meeting and years of unwavering determination.

Want to learn more about Dr. F.M. Hill? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

Dr. Marion Hilliard held the position of Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Women’s College Hospital (WCH) from 1947-1956. She, like many women in Canada, was concerned about the rising number of women diagnosed with cancer. In the 1940s, cervical cancer was the second most common type of cancer in women aged 35 to 50 in Canada. Yet, it was estimated that 90% to 100% of cases were curable, if detected early.

Dr. Hilliard sought out the mentorship of Dr. Joe Vincent Meigs. He published one of the first studies on the newly developed Pap Test in the United States. The Pap Test was a ground-breaking innovation. It was used for the early detection of cervical cancer. But the test was not widely performed in Canada. Many hospitals did not have specialized laboratories and technicians needed to process the test.

Dr. Hilliard thought if a simpler test was invented, more tests would be used in Canada. She believed that a new test would save more women’s lives.

In 1948, Dr. Hilliard, along with Dr. Eva Mader Macdonald, worked with Dr. W. L. Robinson of the Banting Institute at the University of Toronto. Dr. Robinson, a male scientist, was a long-time supporter and ally of WCH. This collaboration led to the development of a simplified Pap Test. This new test could be performed by any gynaecologist or family doctor. Any well-trained pathologist could make the diagnosis.

The initial clinical study was conducted at WCH. It involved 2,096 women. Dr. Hilliard published the results in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. From 1948 to 1952, nearly 30,000 simplified Pap Tests were processed at WCH, saving many lives.

Want to learn more about Dr. Marion Hilliard? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

Portrait of Dr. Marion Hilliard, 195-. WCH Archives, L-02857.
Dr. Marion Powell with her YWCA Women of Distinction Award, May 1984. WCH Archives, L-00925.

Dr. Marion Powell was a longtime supporter of advancing reproductive rights for women and dedicated much of her career to ensuring sexual health education was accessible to young people. Dr. Powell believed that all young people should have access to non-judgmental, age appropriate, and most importantly, accurate information about sex and sexuality.

After graduating with a medical degree from the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Faculty of Medicine in 1946, Dr. Powell completed a senior internship in obstetrics and gynecology at WCH. In 1948, she established her own general practice in Timmins, Ontario. As the community’s only woman doctor, Dr. Powell quickly became aware of the impact that limited sex education had on the community. In 1962, she returned to UofT to complete a Public Health diploma from its School of Hygiene and was then appointed as Peel County’s first female Medical Officer of Health. In 1964, she became the Associate Medical Officer of Health in Scarborough and helped to establish the first municipally funded birth control clinic in Canada. Dr. Powell also worked with the Scarborough Board of Education to develop its sex education curriculum. Her program became a model for other school boards in the province.

When Dr. Powell joined the staff of Women’s College Hospital (WCH) in 1972, she had already enjoyed a successful 25-year professional medical career and was known as a strong leader in the fields of birth control, family planning, and sex education. Over the years, Dr. Powell gained a reputation for “pushing the envelope” in these areas within the medical community and with local and provincial governments. She served on the Ontario Medical Association’s Advisory Council on Health Education and was an advisor on the Curriculum Committee for Physical and Health Education of the Ontario Ministry of Education.

From 1973 to 1981, Dr. Powell was a co-contributor to an advice column for young people entitled “Youth Clinic.” This column ran twice a week in the family section of the Toronto Star and was syndicated to thirty-four newspapers across Canada. She responded to questions on a wide range of subjects including sex, birth control, dating, body image, and sexuality. For those unable or unwilling to approach their family doctor, their friends, or their parents, many young people in the 1970s and early 1980s came to rely on the Youth Clinic column for relevant and accurate sexual health information.

Dr. Powell served as the Director of WCH’s Bay Centre for Birth Control from 1981-1991. She continued her work at the Bay Centre as a medical doctor, researcher, and women’s health advocate until her death in 1997.

Want to learn more about Dr. Marion Powell? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

“She didn’t just open doors for women in medicine, she kicked them down.” – Tribute to Dr. Ricky Schachter, July 21, 2007.

After completing postgraduate studies in dermatology at Columbia University, Dr. Ricky Schachter joined the staff of Women’s College Hospital (WCH) in 1946. She operated two weekly dermatology clinics out of the hospital’s outpatient department. The clinics proved to be so successful that a division of dermatology was established within the year with Dr. Schachter as its head.

Under her leadership, the WCH’s dermatology program grew from a small outpatient clinic to Toronto’s largest and most diverse academic dermatology program. When WCH achieved its status as a fully affiliated teaching hospital with the University of Toronto, Dr. Schachter became the first woman to head an academic division of dermatology in Canada. Former colleague Dr. Neil Shear explained, “Her energy, commitment and vision stimulated students to enter the field of dermatology.”

Dr. Schachter is also remembered for her commitment to developing new and innovative approaches to patient care. Her greatest professional success came in 1976, when she established the Phototherapy Education and Research Centre (PERC) at WCH. It was the first program of its kind in Canada to provide complete psoriasis care in an ambulatory setting.

Dr. Schachter was also a founding member and first president of the Toronto Dermatological Association and in 1978 she became the first woman in Canada to lead specialists in dermatology when she was appointed President of the Canadian Dermatological Association. During her career, she also received the Lifetime Achievement Award of Merit from the Toronto Dermatological Society in 1989, the Order of Canada in 1998 and Canadian Dermatology Foundation Practitioner of the Year in 2005.

Dr. Schachter remained head of WCH’s dermatology program until her retirement in June 1985. Her passion for the field was apparent through her outstanding ambition and care for her work, students, and patients. In recognition of her leadership and contributions to WCH, the Ricky Kanee Schachter Dermatology Center officially opened on November 1, 1991.

Want to learn more about Dr. Ricky Schachter? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

Dr. Ricky Schachter, 198-.WCH Archives, L-00919.
Dorothy Macham, 1964. WCH Archives, L-01086. Photograph by John Reeves.

Dorothy Macham holds a special place in the history of Women’s College Hospital (WCH) as a strong and innovative leader who transformed the 140-bed hospital into a 450-bed teaching institution. Trained as a nurse at the WCH School of Nursing, Macham returned to the hospital years later to accept the role of Hospital Superintendent, after completing an extensive and highly decorated military career.  During World War II, she served as a Nursing Sister for over six years, more than five of which were served overseas and earned the rank of Major (Principal Matron) in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) – a rank rarely awarded to a woman.

Macham was born on July 19, 1910, in New Lowell in Simcoe County, Ontario. As a young girl she aspired to become a nurse and a missionary.  She enrolled at the WCH School of Nursing in 1929.  After graduating in 1932, she completed post-graduate work in psychiatric nursing and nursing administration at the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital. In February 1936, Macham returned to WCH and was appointed Operating Room Supervisor, holding both nursing and administrative responsibilities.

On September 10th, 1939, only one week after World War II was declared, Macham enrolled in the RCAMC. Holding the rank of Lieutenant (Nursing Sister), she was assigned to the No. 15 Canadian General Hospital (CGH) unit housed in the Toronto Military Hospital, located in the old Grace Hospital building on College Street.

Almost a year later in June 1940, the Nursing Sisters of the No. 15 CGH were deployed overseas to a medical unit in Bramshott Chase, England. Since Macham held almost 3 ½ years of operating room experience, she was immediately assigned to the OR.

Macham’s skills in the operating room and administrative experience did not go unnoticed. In the fall of 1941, she was asked to join a new and innovative 20-bed ward plastic surgery unit established by Dr. Stuart Gordon, a plastic surgeon stationed with the No. 15 CGH. The unit specialized in jaw, ear, and nose reconstruction, especially for those injured in motorcycle accidents, as well as performed skin grafts for burn victims. Macham accepted a transfer and was promoted to Nursing Sister-in-Charge.

In June 1943, Macham was promoted to Captain (Matron) and transferred to the No. 5 Casualty Clearing Station located in Copthorne, England. The unit performed minor surgeries onsite and transferred more serious cases to a nearby General Hospital. Macham would continue with this unit to Sicily and Italy.

In June 1944, she was transferred to the No. 8 CGH and returned to England. With this unit she also travelled to Holland, France, and Belgium. Only six months later in December 1944, Macham was promoted to Major (Principal Matron), a rank few women attained.

In March 1945, she returned to England and was posted at the No. 18 CGH. After VE Day, Macham became responsible for facilitating the closures of the No. 18 and No. 13 CGHs.

While still in England, in July 1945 she was presented with the Royal Red Cross 2 (ARRC) medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her nursing service. She was also offered the position of Hospital Superintendent by WCH. By telegram she replied, “Can’t be relieved at present time”. WCH approached her again, but this time she accepted. She arrived in Canada in October 1945 and received an honourable discharge from the military one month later.

Macham began her role as WCH Superintendent in January 1946. Her 29 terms as Superintendent were marked by years of growth and expansion of the hospital. Macham’s leadership was in part responsible for the transformation of WCH from a 140-bed to 450-bed hospital, numerous expansion projects, the construction of Burton Hall (WCH School of Nursing and residence), and its accreditation as a teaching hospital fully affiliated with University of Toronto.

Macham retired from WCH in 1975 but remained an active member of the Nursing Alumnae Association of the WCH School of Nursing and the Nursing Sisters Association of Canada. On April 8, 1981, she received an appointment to the Order of Canada in recognition of her distinguished military career and her dedication to the medical profession.

Dorothy Macham passed away on July 12, 2002.

Want to learn more about Dorothy Macham? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

As Canada entered the Second World War, the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories at the University of Toronto (UofT) became a centre of Canadian wartime innovation in the field of medical research. Scientists worked feverously to develop new drugs and treatments that would assist with Canada’s war efforts. WCH’s Dr. Alice Gray was instrumental in helping to develop one of the most notable innovations at the Connaught Labs “that has become colloquially synonymous with Allied victory” – the wartime mass production of penicillin.

Although this wonder drug was discovered in 1929 in London, England, it could only be produced in small quantities. As WWII progressed, there was a growing urgency to further develop this drug as soldiers’ deaths due to wound infections grew on the battlefields. In 1942, a group of scientists from Oxford University travelled throughout North America, including Toronto, to share their preliminary research with other medical researchers in hopes of further advancing the drug. After one of those meetings, Dr. Phillip Greey and Dr. Alice Gray with UofT’s Department of Pathology and Bacteriology began to develop a way to mass produce penicillin. Impressed by their research, the National Research Council of Canada funded the development of a pilot plant for the large-scale production of penicillin at the Banting Institute. The production methods developed by Greey, Gray, and their research team had evolved so rapidly that by August 1943 Canada’s wartime Department of Munitions and Supply asked the Connaught Labs to begin the mass production of penicillin for all Canadian armed services. To meet the demand, the Connaught Labs greatly expanded its staff and UofT purchased, renovated, and equipped the old Knox College building on Spadina Crescent for production. In less than eight months’ time, penicillin began to be mass produced in this building. According to Connaught Lab’s Wartime Work Report, “the penicillin laboratory was in operation twenty-four hours daily, and over 30,000 bottles were handled each day.”

In 1945, Dr. Alice Gray joined WCH as a microbiologist. Over the next 35 years, she remained at WCH and served as WCH’s Director of Laboratories and Head of its Department of Pathology.

Want to learn more about Dr. Alice Gray? You might be interested in the following records held by the WCH Archives:

Portrait of Dr. Alice Gray, 1980. WCH Archives, L-01162