The history of door-to-door fundraising at WCH, the hospital built by milk money

2019-09-06 4:24:35 PM

By: Denisa Popa (Archives summer student)

This past July, Women’s College Hospital Foundation (WCHF) initiated a door-to-door fundraising campaign in the Greater Toronto Area. Although it was a first for the Foundation, it was definitely not a first for Women’s College Hospital (WCH).

During the 20th century, door-to-door canvassing became a common method of fundraising for many North American hospitals. Dedicated volunteers from hospital foundations and charities would travel tirelessly from door to door to spread their message and collect much-needed donations for their cause.

Throughout the 1900s, Women’s College Hospital relied on door-to-door canvassing to help fund various projects and initiatives. The hospital’s first door-to-door campaign took place in 1917, when women canvassers raised over $45,000 to fund a three-storey addition to the hospital’s Rusholme Road building.. In 1928, the hospital launched a ten-day campaign to help raise the $750,000 needed for the construction of the new hospital at 76 Grenville Street. And in 1935, the hospital launched a week-long campaign to raise $100,000 for the subsequent furniture and equipment to help complete the hospital’s interior.

WCH's volunteer canvassers circa 1925

During these three campaigns women canvassers who went “door-to-door” won over the hearts of Torontonians. The 1928 campaign was led by the Women’s Division, a group of 300 women canvassers who were housewives, stay at home moms, doctors, nurses and hospital alumnae. Mrs. A.M. Huestis was the chair of the Women’s Division and she herself donated $5,000 to the fund. The 1935 campaign was comprised of approximately 425 female volunteers who canvassed eight different residential areas of Toronto (Beach, Rosedale, Moore Park, Lawrence Park, Forest Hill Village, Wychwood (Deer Park & Casa Loma), Baby Point ( Runnymede & High Park) and Kingsway. The volunteers, whose names were inscribed in the Honour Roll of workers, visited hundreds of Toronto homes and pleaded the hospital’s case to the housewives and mothers that watched over these homes during the day.


Many of the women who answered the doors in the 1920s and 1930s – the era of the Great Depression – were so moved by the story of Women’s College Hospital that they gave the canvassers their milk money, the little money they had set aside to buy their milk from the milkman. Today, Women’s College Hospital’s current Association of Volunteers president, Jocelyn Palm, often says that the hospital “was built by milk money.”

As a result of the efforts of the women volunteers who went door-to-door, the hospital was able to raise enough money to build and equip a brand new building, with a full-scale facility opening in 1935 at the current site of Women’s College Hospital. 

This summer, we were proud to carry on Women’s College Hospital’s history of door-to-door fundraising with our July campaign to raise important funds in support of programs and research that fuel health equity for women and for all.