Emily Stowe | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Emily Howard Stowe was also a lifelong champion of women’s rights. She was the first Canadian woman to practice medicine. She campaigned tirelessly to provide women with access to medical schools, leading to the foundation of a medical college for women.

Stowe was born on a farm in Norwich Township, Upper Canada (Ontario), the first of six daughters of a Methodist father and a Quaker mother. Her mother home-schooled Emily and her five sisters, instilling in them a love of learning. She also taught them skills in herbal healing.

From ages 15 to 22, Stowe worked as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. In 1852 she applied to enter Victoria College in Cobourg, but was not admitted because she was a woman. She then applied to the Normal School for Upper Canada, graduating in 1854 with first-class honours.

When she was offered a position with the Brantford School Board, she soon became the first female principal of a public school in Upper Canada. She remained in that job until her marriage in 1856  to John Stowe from England. Over the next seven years they had three children.

Soon after, John contracted tuberculosis. His illness inspired Emily to explore the field of herbal healing and homeopathic medicine. This led her to see the serious need for women doctors.

In 1865 she applied to the Toronto School of Medicine, but once again she was denied admission. The school’s vice-president telling her, “The doors of the University are not open to women and I trust they never will be.” Stowe was outraged and promised herself that she would do everything possible to enable women to have the same opportunities as men.

She went to the U.S. and obtained her degree there in 1867. Returning back to Canada, she set up a practice in homeopathic medicine in Toronto, even before obtaining her license. This made her the first practicing female physician in Canada.

But Stowe had a rich, long history. If you’d like to read more, go to Emily Howard Stowe.

This has been Post 23 in the Series A LIFE WORTH LIVING. Read Part 24 – What if…?