Ann Augusta Stowe-Gullen, née Stowe, physician, lecturer, and activist (born 27 July 1857 in Mount Pleasant, ON; died 25 September 1943 in Toronto, ON). The daughter of celebrated suffragist Emily Stowe, Augusta Stowe-Gullen was the first woman to graduate from a Canadian medical school. She was also a passionate activist for women’s franchise.
Physician and suffragist Augusta Stowe-Gullen was the first woman to graduate from a Canadian medical school.
Augusta Stowe was the first of three children born to Emily Howard Jennings Stowe and John Stowe of Mount Pleasant, Brant County, Ontario. Stowe was raised in a vibrant, activist household. Her mother was a founder of the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association and is widely considered to be the first female physician to publicly practise medicine in Ontario.
As a young girl, Stowe knew she wanted a career in medicine. She passed the matriculation exam for the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1879 and was accepted to the medical program at Victoria College (now part of the University of Toronto). Victoria students took courses at the Toronto School of Medicine. There were few choices at the time for women interested in a medical career. The medical school at Kingston, for example, accepted female students but was in turmoil. Male students successfully petitioned to have female students expelled from the program. (Dr. Jennie Trout opened a Women’s Medical College in Kingston in 1883.)
Although Stowe had more options than her mother, she was still the only woman in her course. Male classmates made jokes and comments and tried to embarrass Stowe, but they eventually accepted her.
In 1883, Augusta Stowe graduated from the medical program, becoming the first female physician trained in Canada. A week later, she married her classmate, Dr. John Gullen. What would have been their honeymoon was spent in a New York classroom, taking a postgraduate course in children’s diseases. On returning home, Stowe-Gullen was appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy at the new Women’s Medical College (later OMCW) in Toronto, which had been cofounded by her mother. She was the first female member of staff at the school.
Stowe-Gullen also worked at Toronto Western Hospital, which her husband cofounded with 11 other doctors. In 1896, she delivered the hospital’s first baby. Stowe-Gullen also helped to organize the hospital’s Women’s Board, now known as Volunteer Resources. In addition, she maintained a private medical practice from her home. In 1910, Stowe-Gullen was appointed to the Senate of the University of Toronto to represent women in medicine. Throughout her career, she travelled internationally, lecturing and attending medical conferences and visiting other medical institutions.
An outspoken campaigner for women’s political franchise, Ann Augusta Stowe-Gullen was a member of such organizations as the University Women’s Club and Canadian Suffrage Club. She and her mother were also founding members of the National Council of Women of Canada (established in 1893). Stowe-Gullen was also one of two women elected to the Toronto School Board in 1892.
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The high-spirited Stowe-Gullen enjoyed pushing social boundaries. In the late 19th century, bicycling became popular among both men and women. To many, the bicycle represented freedom. However, some people criticized women cyclists, especially those that wore bloomers for ease and comfort. To such people, these outfits were scandalous. Stowe-Gullen would have none of it. Riding a bicycle in bloomers and cap, she happily pedalled along Toronto’s Yonge Street in a public display of defiance.
Stowe-Gullen was also involved in a “mock parliament.” Mock parliaments were organized by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Dominion Women’s Franchise Association. Productions were held in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario. The Toronto performance, held in February 1896, attempted to revive interest in the women’s franchise. Advertised as entertainment, tickets were priced at 25 and 50 cents. In these mock parliaments, gender roles were reversed. Women sat in Parliament while their husbands tended home and children. Stowe-Gullen and her mother, Emily Stowe, portrayed Ministers of Parliament.
After her mother died in 1903, Stowe-Gullen was appointed president of the Canadian Suffrage Association and was selected vice-president of the National Council of Women. She also became president of the Dominion Women’s Franchise Association. On 12 April 1917, Ontario became the fifth province to grant women the vote.
A passionate suffragist and pioneering woman physician, Ann Augusta Stowe-Gullen was honoured with the Order of the British Empire in 1935. She died in 1943 at age 86.