The medical establishment wasn’t ready for women, so Dr. Trout finished her training in the USA. She opened the Kingston Women’s School of Medicine on October 2, 1883
A career in medicine is something young women may choose easily today. They train at universities and medical colleges without a second thought. But in Jennie Trout’s time, wanting to be a doctor was a daunting prospect. Not impossible, but surely complicated.
One of the few medical post-secondary schools open to women, the University of Toronto’s School of Medicine accepted females into their program. Jennie Kidd Trout enrolled in 1871, ready to learn. She attended classes with another female student who would become a suffragist powerhouse, Emily Howard Stowe. (Emily had already earned a medical degree in New York. She did not pass Ontario licencing exams until 1880, thus practicing unlicenced for several years.) Society, noted the Queen’s University website, had the general impression that women should not attend university, that “the delicate grace and beauty of women’s character” should not be subjected to “the rude influences, the bitterness and strife of the world.” Jennie and Emily were subjected to humiliations by male classmates and professors alike – lewd jokes by instructors and practical jokes played by the male students made their studies frustratingly difficult.
Jennie Trout Ready for a Medical Career
Jennie Kidd Trout was not a young, shy woman blushing with embarrassment in lectures. She was a mature, married woman. Born on April 21, 1841 as Jennie Kidd Gowanlock in Kelso, Scotland, her family moved to Canada in 1847, settling in southern Ontario near Stratford. After graduation from Normal School, Jennie trained as a teacher then taught for four years. Married to Edward Trout, publisher of the respected business journal, Monetary Times, Jennie became ill with “nervous disorders” shortly after marriage, and was nearly incapacitated for six years. According to her family history on Rootsweb, it was during her illness that practicing medicine became Jennie’s goal.
Completing one year of study, Jennie transferred to Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Three years later, on March 11, 1875, she received her Medical Doctorate degree. Returning home to Canada, Jennie passed the stringent Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons exam. At 34 years old, Jennie Kidd Trout was the first licenced woman physician in Canada.
Electro-therapy Clinics and Free Dispensary
Dr. Trout opened a clinic specializing in electro-therapy, something she found had helped her recover during her long illness. The Therapeutic and Electrical Institute opened its Jarvis Street offices in Toronto, with six adjoining houses and room for 60 patients. The clinic was very popular. Jennie felt a need to pay back some of her good fortune, so she opened a free dispensary for those who could not afford care. To help with costs, she gave paid lectures on medicine, but it was not sufficient to keep the dispensary running. The free dispensary closed in 1876. Meanwhile, the electro-therapy clinic blossomed, with Jennie opening branch offices and even taking on a male doctor as consultant. She became ill, retiring from her medical duties at age 41.
Other young women were also interested in medical careers and Jennie was eager to help. In 1883, she offered the huge sum of $10,000 to establish a women-only college of medicine in Toronto. Her stipulations were that the governing board and staff should be composed of a majority of women. The “medical establishment” was not prepared to make such concessions in control and proceeded with their own plans to open a women’s medical college. Jennie moved her offer to Kingston, Ontario.
The Kingston Women’s Medical College
The Kingston Women’s Medical College opened its doors to women students in a wing of City Hall on October 2, 1883. (The Toronto Women’s Medical College had opened just one day earlier.) Three students were admitted to the school affiliated with the medical program at Queen’s University. (While women had been permitted to attend medical courses at Queen’s in 1880, their presence caused a ruckus with male students threatening to leave en masse. Women were expelled in 1883, making room for the Women’s Medical College. Women would not be readmitted to the Queen’s University’s medical faculty itself until 1943.)
In 10 years of operation, the Kingston Women’s Medical College produced 34 skilled women physicians. With a lack of students, the Kingston College merged with the Toronto Women’s Medical College in 1893 to form the Ontario Medical College for Women.
Jennie put her energy into other projects, taking part in Women’s Temperance activities and the Association for Advancement of Women. She and Edward moved to California in 1908. Jennie Kidd Trout died in Los Angeles in 1921. She was 80 years old.
This article was first published on Suite101.com in 2007. Copyright Susanna McLeod