​Women’s History Month: Celebrating the pioneering women of WCH

2016-10-05 4:52:23 PM

Each year, Women’s History Month is a special opportunity for Canadians to celebrate the achievements of women as trailblazers throughout our history. Here at Women’s College Hospital, we’re honouring the extraordinary contributions of some of our pioneering women, whose legacy of excellence and leadership forever changed healthcare in Canada. 

Dr. Jennie Smillie Robertson (1878-1981)

"When I was five years old, I asked my mother. 'Mother, can girls be doctors?' and when she smiled and said 'yes', I said, 'Then I’m going to be a doctor.'"

Dr. Jennie Smillie Robertson was the first recorded female surgeon in Canada and one of the first female doctors to perform major gynecological surgery. 

After attending one year of medical classes at the Ontario Medical College for Women, she was one of the first women admitted to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. She graduated with a medical degree in 1909. She joined the staff of the newly formed Women’s College Hospital in 1912 and held the position of Associate Chief of Gynecology until 1942.

Dr. Jessie Gray (1910-1978)

“A group of determined women is a force to be reckoned with.”

Fondly remembered as Canada’s “First Lady of Surgery”, Dr. Jessie Gray was a trailblazer for women in the field of surgery, a field traditionally dominated by men.

In 1939, she graduated from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine as its first woman gold medalist for highest marks in the class. She went on to become the first woman in Canada to earn a Master of Surgery degree. During her time Surgeon-in-Chief of Women’s College Hospital from 1946-1965, she was considered to be one of the top four leading cancer surgeons in North America.

Dr. Ricky Schachter (1918-2007)

“I knew I wanted to be a doctor and these men and their rules were not going to stand in my way.”

Dr. Ricky Kanee Schachter was the first woman to head an academic division of dermatology in Canada.

She graduated from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine in 1943 and joined the staff of Women’s College Hospital. She established and headed its first dermatology department in 1946. Dr. Schachter is also responsible for launching the Phototherapy Education and Research Centre (PERC) in 1976 – the first program of its kind in Canada. In 1978 she was elected as the first woman president of the Canadian Dermatology Association.

Dr. Jean Davey (1909-1980)

“Now, women in uniform are such a common sight that one accepts them as a matter of course, and it’s a little difficult to look back and realize that this acceptance has not always been the case."

Dr. Jean Flatt Davey holds the distinction of being the first woman 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 (RCAF).

Dr. Davey graduated from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine in 1936 and later joined the staff of Women’s College Hospital. In August 1941, Dr. Davey enlisted in the RCAF and was soon promoted to Squadron Officer. She was in complete charge of the health of the RCAF Women’s Division. In 1943, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her exemplary wartime service.

After retiring from the military in 1945, she returned to Women’s College Hospital. She held the position of Chief of Medicine from 1950-1965 and was the first woman to head a Department of Medicine at a teaching hospital in Canada.

Dr. Augusta Stowe Gullen (1857-1943)

“…similar to all pioneers, the pathway of the girl graduate was not strewn with roses.”

Dr. Ann Augusta Stowe Gullen was the first woman in Canada to receive a medical degree from a Canadian University. 

Daughter of Canada’s first female physician, Dr. Emily Stowe, Dr. Stowe Gullen graduated with a degree in medicine from Victoria College in 1883. That year, she joined the teaching staff of the newly formed Woman’s Medical College, a medical college for women founded by her mother. She continued to teach and sit on the medical college’s board of directors until its closure in 1905. She then supported the establishment of a women’s hospital in Toronto. Dr. Stowe Gullen was one of the earliest members of the Women’s College Hospital’s board of governors.

To learn more about the pioneers of Women’s College Hospital, please contact The Miss Margaret Robins Archives of Women’s College Hospital.