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Mary Beacock Fryer

Toronto, Dundurn Press, 1990. 150pp, cloth, $17.95
ISBN 1-55002-079-X. CIP

Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up
Reviewed by Catherine Cox.

Volume 19 Number 3
1991 May

This book about Emily Stowe, the first woman to practise medicine in Canada, is one in a series of biographies of Canadians who made contributions in medicine. The "Canadian Medical Lives" series is sponsored by the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine and is edited by Thomas Morley, M.D.

Emily Stowe (1831-1903) grew up in a Quaker family in Norwich, a community in southern Ontario. She was a member of a prominent family whose political leanings were with the Reformers. After becoming a teacher and the first woman to be a principal of a school in Upper Canada, Emily Jennings married John Stowe from Mount Pleasant near Brant ford.

After their family was born John contracted tuberculosis, from which he never fully recovered. To support the family, Emily Stowe decided to become a doctor. Failing to gain admission to a medical school in Canada, she studied in New York (there were medical schools for women in the United States). Dr. Stowe never stopped campaigning for equal treatment of men and women in Canadian universities. Before the end of her life the University of Toronto accepted women into their co-educa­tional medical school. Dr. Stowe's daughter, Dr. Augusta Stowe Gullen, graduated from Victoria College in 1883, becoming the first woman doctor to be trained in Canada.

Emily Stowe is equally well known for her suffragist activities. She believed that women would never be treated equally in education or any field of endeavour unless they were recognized as equal partners in the governing of the country - they must have the vote. She spent a great deal of her energy in her adult life campaigning for votes for women, but did not live to see universal suffrage extended across the country.

Mary Beacock got most of her information about Emily Stowe from Stowe's grandson and family historian. Hudson Stowe, as well as from the archives of Norwich and District, Victoria College, and the Academy of Medicine. Dr. Stowe's family history, as well as all the other events and achieve­ments in her life, is well documented. As a person, however, Emily Stowe, never comes to life. We don't really find out what she was like, what she felt, what she thought. The only emotion that seems to emerge is a rather petty competitiveness with Dr. Jenny Trout, her rival as proponent of women in medicine in Canada. Mary Beacock has written a factual and thorough biogra­phy of Emily Stowe, but it isn't a good readable story.

This is an attractive book, illustrated with eight black-and-white photo­graphs. There is a bibliography and an index.

Emily Stowe: Doctor and Suffragist is an important book and a welcome addition to the history of women's suffrage and medicine in Canada.


Catherine Cox, Moncton High School, Moncton, N.B.
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