Emily Stowe was born in Ontario in 1831 to a humble family of 9. From the time of her teenage years, she was already in the realm of early feminism, so she adopted her mother’s maiden name instead of her father’s. She was the only one of her seven siblings.
At the age of 21, she was thrust into a one-room schoolhouse to teach a class of elementary students as there was no one else to do it. She taught for seven years, during which time she became the principal of an expanded small country school. She was the first female elementary school principal in Ontario.
In 1865, as her husband battled tuberculosis, she decided to study medicine; however, she was denied entry to the Toronto School of Medicine solely because she was a woman. She forged ahead anyway and attended New York Medical College, from where she obtained a homeopathic degree. She returned to Toronto and set up her practice without an Ontario medical license. Years later, she successfully enrolled in the Toronto School of Medicine and was the second female physician to earn a medical license in Canada.
Her strong voice for women’s rights advocated for higher education for women and lobbied U of T to dismantle its archaic practices in the medical field. Thus, her daughter, Augusta, studied medicine at U of T and became the first female doctor to graduate from a Canadian Medical School. Through her continued activism, Emily Stowe initiated and organized a centre for women where patients paid what they could afford and received free advice. This institution later became known as Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital.
Through her courageous and tireless crusade for women’s rights was an inspiration as an educator, a physician as an advocate and as a mentor for women. She died in 1903 at the age of 71.
She was a tower of strength and a true pioneer of the lesser road travelled. __________________________________Contributed by É H