Women's Medical College

The Kingston Women's Medical College, affiliated with Queen's, was established in 1883 and ran until 1894. It was founded after disgruntled male students forced women out of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Kingston, an early incarnation of Queen's Faculty of Medicine.

[Women’s Medical College, 1889]
Class portrait of Women’s Medical College 1889 with the dean (centre)

When the Queen’s medical school opened in 1855, no thought was given to accepting women. Canada’s first two female doctors, Emily Stowe and Jennie Trout, were educated in the United States in the 1860s.

In 1877, Elizabeth Smith of Hamilton decided to apply to Queen’s medical school. Sensing that women were making inroads into medicine, the Royal College accepted her and two other applicants, Alice McGillivray and Elizabeth Beatty. With their acceptance, they stipulated that their classes must be taken separately from male students and during the summer rather than during the regular academic year. “The Rubicon is crossed,” Ms. Smith wrote in her diary. “We cut the rope – we are adrift on a sea of study…ready to begin warfare.”

Two more women arrived the next year. Queen’s medical program became co-educational, but with women at times sequestered in adjacent lecture halls and forced to use segregated dissection rooms.

This situation worsened when a male lecturer began to openly disparage the female students in his classes. The male students also taunted their women colleagues.

Ms. Smith and her colleagues began boycotting lectures, and a standoff ensued. Late in 1882, the Royal College surrendered to the male students’ pressure, and no more women would be admitted. The women already in the program would have to complete their studies sealed off from male contact, except that of the professors.

Not everyone approved. A group of local politicians, doctors, and faculty came together the next year to create the Women’s Medical College as a dedicated venue for women in medicine. Loosely affiliated with Queen’s, but with its own board, the college held its classes in the west wing of Kingston City Hall and had a dissecting room just under the old building's dome. It moved to a house at 75 Union Street in 1890. Professors such as Alice McGillivray, a member of the first female medical class, were hired.

Unfortunately, the new college was deemed to be not financially viable, as the small number of women studying medicine in Canada were increasingly attracted to medical schools in Toronto and Montreal. In 1893, it shut its doors. Women were not admitted again to the Queen’s medical school until 1943.

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