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Dr. Emily Stowe

Dr. Emily Howard Stowe (May 1, 1831 – April 30, 1903) was the first female doctor to practice in Canada, and an activist for women's rights and suffrage. Emily Stowe was born in Norwich Township, Oxford County, Ontario.

Emily’s public struggle to achieve equality for women began in 1852, when she applied for admission to Victoria College, Cobourg. Refused on the grounds that she was female, she applied to the Normal School for Upper Canada, which Egerton Ryerson had recently founded in Toronto. She entered in November 1853 and was graduated with first-class honors in 1854. Hired as principal of a Brantford public school, she was the first woman to be a principal of a public school in Upper Canada. She taught there until her marriage in 1856.

She married John Fiuscia Michael Heward Stowe in 1856. In the next seven years she had 3 children, in the course of which her husband also developed tuberculosis, which in turn developed his wife's interest in herbal remedies and homeopathic medicine, a field in which her mother had also been interested. Emily Howard Stowe then decided to become a doctor.

Since no medical school in Canada would accept a female even by the 1860s — "The doors of the University are not open to women and I trust they never will be," the University's vice-president told her — Emily Stowe earned her degree in the United States, graduating from the New York Medical College for Women (a homeopathic medical school) in 1867, and returned to open a practice in Toronto, Ontario without a license. She saved many children and women.

In 1870, the president of the Toronto School of Medicine granted special permission to Stowe and fellow student Jenny Kidd Trout to attend classes, though Stowe does not seem to have taken the exams for her license.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario granted Stowe a licence to practice medicine on July 16, 1880, based on her past experience, making Stowe the second female licensed physician in Canada, after Trout.

Her daughter, Augusta Stowe-Gullen, was the first woman to earn a medical degree in Canada.

Stowe was a prominent early suffragist, considered by some to be the mother of the movement in Canada. In 1877 she founded the Toronto Women's Literary Guild, a suffragist organization, and campaigned for professional, educational and occupational opportunities for women. When the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association was founded in 1889, Stowe became its first president and remained president until her death.

As is true for many suffragists, a tension existed between Stowe's commitment to fellow women and class loyalty. In an episode that may demonstrate the dominance of the latter, Stowe broke the bond of doctor-patient confidentiality by disclosing the abortion request of a patient, Sara Ann Lovell, a domestic servant, to her employer. (See Abortion trial of Emily Stowe)

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