Emily Stowe

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Emily Stowe
Emily Stowe.jpg
Emily Howarde Stowe

(1831-05-01)May 1, 1831
DiedApril 30, 1903(1903-04-30) (aged 71)
EducationNew York Medical College for Women

Emily Howarde Stowe (née Jennings, May 1, 1831 – April 30, 1903) was the first female physician to practise in Canada, the second licensed female physician in Canada[1] and an activist for women's rights and suffrage.[2] Stowe helped found the women's suffrage movement in Canada and campaigned for the country's first medical college for women.[3]

Early life[edit]

Emily Howard Jennings was born in Norwich Township, Oxford County, Ontario to Hannah Howard and Solomon Jennings, who were successful farmers. While Solomon converted to Methodism, Hannah raised her six daughters as Quakers. The community encouraged the education of women and women's participation in Quaker meetings. Stowe's mother was educated at a Quaker seminary in the United States. She home-schooled Stowe and her five sisters, instilling in the United States. Hannah Howard also taught them skills in herbal healing.[4] After teaching at local schools for seven years, her public struggle to achieve equality for women began in 1852, when she applied for admission to Victoria College, Cobourg, Ontario. Refused on the grounds that she was female, she applied to the Normal School for Upper Canada, which Egerton Ryerson had recently founded in Toronto. She entered in November 1853 and was graduated with first-class honours in 1854.[3] Hired as principal of a Brantford, Ontario public school, she was the first woman to be a principal of a public school in Upper Canada. She taught there until her marriage in 1856 (see Marriage bar).

She married John Fiuscia Michael Heward Stowe in 1856. In the next seven years she had three children: two sons and a daughter. Shortly after the birth of their third child, her husband developed tuberculosis, which led her to take a renewed interest in medicine. Having had experience with herbal remedies and homeopathic medicine since the 1840s, Emily Stowe left teaching and decided to become a doctor.

Medical career[edit]

Stowe was denied entrance into the Toronto School of Medicine in 1865 and was told by its Vice Principal, "The doors of the University are not open to women and I trust they never will be."[5] Unable to study medicine in Canada, Emily Stowe earned her degree in the United States from the homeopathic New York Medical College for Women in 1867. The same year, she returned to Canada and opened a medical practice in Toronto,[5] on Richmond Street.[3] Stowe gained some local prominence through public lectures on women's health and maintained a steady clientele through newspaper advertisements.[5] When Stowe returned to Canada in 1867 and opened a medical practice on Richmond Street in Toronto, she specialized in treating diseases of women and children.

In the mid-1860s, the medical profession is Canada began requiring the homeopathic doctors and doctors trained in the United States take further courses and an examination to obtain their medical licenses. In 1869, Stowe applied to take classes in chemistry and physiology at the University of Toronto to qualify for her license. She was denied entry. In 1871, Stowe was finally admitted to the Toronto School of Medicine. Stowe still did not receive her medical license. Stowe continued to practice medicine without a medical license for over a decade.[4]

In 1870, the president of the Toronto School of Medicine granted special permission to Stowe and fellow student Jennie Kidd Trout to attend classes, a requirement for medical practitioners with foreign licences. Faced with hostility from both the male faculty and students, Stowe refused to take the oral and written exams and left the school.[5]

In 1879, Stowe was involved in criminal trial. One of her patients, nineteen-year-old Sarah Lovell, died mysteriously. Stowe was accused of trying to help Lowell have an abortion, which was against the law at the time. At the inquest, Stowe testified that she had given Lovell a drug that could cause a miscarriage, but that she had given only one thirtieth of the full dose. This amount was too small to cause a miscarriage. When Stowe testified at the inquest, she proved herself to be a knowledgeable and skilled medical practitioner. The coroner’s jury determined that Lovell had poisoned herself. Still, Stowe was charged with the criminal act of administering drugs to cause an abortion. After a short trial, Stowe was ultimately acquitted. Stowe gained fame and public support during the trial.[6]

Soon after the trial, on 16 July 1880, Stowe received her medical license from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Rather than writing her exam, she was admitted on basis of her credentials and her earlier medical work as an apprentice to Dr. Joseph J. Lancaster.[4]

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario granted Stowe a licence to practise medicine on July 16, 1880, based on her experience with homeopathic medicine since 1850. This licence made Stowe the second female licensed physician in Canada, after Trout.[5]

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.” [7]

Her daughter, Augusta Stowe-Gullen, was the first woman to earn a medical degree in Canada.

Women's rights[edit]

While studying medicine in New York, Stowe met with Susan B. Anthony and witnessed the divisions within the American women's suffrage movement. Stowe also attended a women's club meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. Stowe adopted a gradualist strategy which she brought back to her work in Canada.[5]

In 1876, Stowe founded the Toronto Women's Literary Club, renamed the Canadian Women's Suffrage Association in 1883.[5] This has led some to consider Stowe the mother of the suffrage movement in Canada. The Literary Club campaigned for improved working conditions for women and pressured schools in Toronto to accept women into higher education. In 1883, a public meeting of the Suffrage Association led to the creation of the Ontario Medical College for Women.[3] When the Dominion Women's Enfranchisement Association was founded in 1889, Stowe became its first president and remained president until her death. In 1889, Stowe helped create a nationwide organization devoted to female suffrage called the Dominion Women's Enfranchisement Association.[8]

As is true for many suffragists, a tension existed between Stowe's commitment to fellow women and class loyalty. In an episode that may demonstrate the dominance of the latter, Stowe broke the bond of doctor-patient confidentiality by disclosing the abortion request of a patient, Sara Ann Lovell, a domestic servant, to her employer. (See Abortion trial of Emily Stowe.) Stowe, however, sharply criticized the National Policy economic program in 1892. She believed that it would not help working-class Canadians and was instead a corrupt deal on behalf of major businesses.[9]

After breaking her hip at the Columbian Exposition's Women's Congress in 1893, Stowe retired from medicine. In 1896, Emily and her daughter Augusta participated in an all-female "mock parliament," in which the women considered a petition from a male delegation for the right to vote. Stowe, as the Attorney General, used the same arguments that the Canadian Parliament had levelled against female suffragists and denied the petition.[3] Stowe died in 1903, fourteen years before Canadian women were granted the right to vote.

Education For Women[edit]

Stowe worked tirelessly to promote higher education for women. She pressured the University of Toronto to change their policies around accepting female students into medical school.[4]

Stowe helped to create the first medical school for women in Canada.[4]

Personal life[edit]

While she counted herself a Quaker until 1879, she became a Unitarian in 1879 and attended the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto.[citation needed]


Dr. Emily Stowe ranks as a true pioneer. She is the first female public-school principal in Ontario, the first female physician to practice medicine in Canada and a lifelong champion of women’s rights who helped to found the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association.[8]

Public elementary schools in her hometown of Norwich Township (Emily Stowe Public School) as well as Courtice, Ontario are named after her.[10] A women's shelter in Toronto, Canada, is named after her.[11] In 2018, she was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.[12]

Even though the Ontario Medical College for Women closed in 1905, its Dispensary inspired the creation of a hospital run by women for women. In 1909, a group called the Women’s College Hospital Committee campaigned for a female-run hospital. The Dispensary was renamed Women’s College Hospital and Dispensary in 1913. The original hospital had seven beds but grew larger over the years and continues to operate. As a prominent teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto, Women’s College Hospital continues to promote health equity and innovates in the health care system.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Buchanan, D. (2012). " In His Name": The Live and Times of Jenny Kidd Trout. Leaven. 3(3): 16.
  2. ^ Catherine L. Cleverdon (1950). The Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada: Second Edition. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442654822. Stowe.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Dr. Emily Howard Stowe". Library and Archives Canada. 2008-07-21. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Emily Stowe | The Canadian Encyclopedia". www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Baros-Johnson, Irene. "Emily Stowe". Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society. Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography. Archived from the original on 12 January 2013. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  6. ^ "The Victorian-era abortion trial that rocked Toronto". TVO.org. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  7. ^ "Women's College Hospital - Our History". Women's College Hospital. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  8. ^ a b "Emily Stowe MD | Canadian Medical Hall of Fame". www.cdnmedhall.org. Retrieved 2021-02-27.
  9. ^ Homel, Gene Howard (Spring 1980). "'Fading Beams of the Nineteenth Century': Radicalism and Early Socialism in Canada's 1890s". Labour/Le Travail. 5: 7–32. doi:10.2307/25139946. JSTOR 25139946. Retrieved 2015-03-03.
  10. ^ http://emilystowe.kprdsb.ca/
  11. ^ George Haim (2016-11-05). "For Kay Blair, giving back was 'part of her DNA': Obituary". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2019-03-30. Her experience gave her a special insight when she later became a counsellor at the Emily Stowe Shelter for Women.
  12. ^ "Emily Stowe, MD | Canadian Medical Hall of Fame". www.cdnmedhall.org. Retrieved 2019-12-24.

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