Emily Howard Stowe

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See also Avicenna | Norman Bethune | History of medicine portal | History of surgery in Canada | Wilder Penfield | Lucille Teasdale | Jenny Kidd Trout

Emily Howard Stowe (1831 — 1903), teacher, suffragist & physician, was the first "qualified" female doctor to practice medicine in Canada. Born in Norwich Township, Oxford County Ontario, Stowe lived most of her life in pre-Confederation Canada. During this period, Stowe (née Jennings) was well-known as an advocate for women rights, and a suffragist. She had long-standing interests in studying and practicing medicine, but it took her time before she could properly pursue a legitimate education in medicine. Stowe's mother was interested in herbal remedies, and Emily apprenticed as a homeopathic physician in the United States before returning to Canada. Stowe eventually studied at the Normal School in Upper Canada and taught school for several years.

Stowe served as the very first female principal in Upper Canada but by 1860 was ready to turn her full attention to medicine. No Canadian medical schools accepted women at the time, so she ventured to the United States. In 1867, she graduated from the New York Medical College for Women, a homeopathic college. While she did not have her medical license Stowe began to practice a form of medicine in Toronto, working primarily with women and children. In 1879, she was charged with performing an abortion but acquitted after several Toronto doctors spoke in her defense. By 1880, after passing her final medical exams and formally receiving her medical license, Stowe joined her female colleague Jenny Kidd Trout as one of two qualified female physicians practicing medicine in Canada at the time.

In addition to her medical contributions, Stowe was known for her outspokenness on abortion, and worked successfully for womens' rights including their right to own property and vote. Married women gained the right to property in 1894, although women were not able to vote until 1917, fourteen years after Stowe's death. She was particularly interested in women's access to medical education. Stowe was one of the first women to attend classes at the Toronto School of Medicine. When this privilege was not extended to women generally, Stowe founded the Women's Medical College in Toronto. Her daughter, Augusta Stowe-Gullen, was the first woman to earn a medical degree in Canada (from the University of Toronto which was previously a male-only school).

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A depiction of Stowe's colleague, Jenny Kidd Trout, first Canadian woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada, at the Toronto Medical School in 1871

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