Mary Kate Hamilton – “The fairy godmother of the hospitals”

2020-12-16 3:40:29 PM

Mary Kate Hamilton dedicated more than fifty years of her life to spreading kindness and cheer at Women’s College Hospital (WCH) and at other hospitals in Toronto during the holiday season.

Born in 1856, Mary Kate was sister to Sir Henry Pellatt, builder of Toronto’s Casa Loma. At age twenty-two, she married Lieutenant Colonel R. B. Hamilton and devoted her life to philanthropy. Her charitable work began in 1883 with a six-dollar donation to buy a tree and a few gifts for patients in a public hospital ward. This small act of generosity quickly expanded into fundraising for holiday parties and providing hundreds of gifts for patients in hospitals throughout the city. Her growing holiday campaign became known as the Kate Hamilton Hospital Fund.

Mary Kate started planning every June for each upcoming holiday season. She called on friends, family, local merchants, and prominent citizens to support her holiday appeal that provided small presents to those patients in public hospital wards who would be alone for the holidays. Toronto’s own Mary Pickford, the Hollywood silent film actress, became one of the Mary Kate’s most famous supporters.

Volunteers from the WCH Cradle Club collect toys to distribute at the holiday party, December 1933

Hamilton-Pin.jpgIn addition to the holiday appeal, Mary Kate also held a special place in her heart for the dedicated nursing staff and students at Women’s College Hospital. In 1922, she donated a gold pearl-encrusted pin to the WCH School of Nursing. Known as the Hamilton Pin, it was presented annually to an outstanding nursing graduate for personal neatness, cheerfulness and, most importantly, for kindness to patients. The first recipient of the pin was Jessie Patterson, a graduate of the WCH Class of 1925. This tradition continued with each nursing class for next twenty-five years.

In 1936, WCH offered its new building at 76 Grenville Street as the headquarters for the packing and distribution of Mary Kate’s holiday boxes. That year, she, along with her committee of supporters, packed over one thousand boxes of nuts, candy and clothing for patients. 
As the head of the committee explained, “it seems but fitting that the Women’s College Hospital – which is a monument of women’s achievement for women – should be the headquarters for this work, which was the outcome of a generous-hearted woman’s thought for the suffering, and which has, through the years, grown into such gigantic proportions.”

Over the years, thousands of Torontonians were recipients of Mary Kate’s holiday boxes – earning her the nickname “the fairy godmother of the hospitals.” Her small acts of kindness spread cheer to patients who were hospitalized during the holiday season. Following her death in 1947, one local newspaper remarked that the city would remember Mary Kate Hamilton for “her warm and friendly human contacts and her never-failing concern for people. She made great contributions to the life of Toronto.”

This holiday season, when we could all use a little extra kindness and cheer, Women’s College Hospital Foundation is proud to remember and celebrate Mary Kate for her inspiring spirit and dedication to brightening the lives of those around her.