From the archives: Emily Howard Stowe (Herstory 1974)


Emily Howard Stowe

Emily Howard Stowe was born in Norwich, Oxford County, Ontario, on May 1, 1831, one of six daughters of Quaker parents. They considered education as important for girls as boys, hence she was taught at home by her mother. In 1853 she received her teacher’s certificate and secured a position at Brantford Central School which she held until her marriage to John Stowe in 1856. When he became ill with tuberculosis she applied to the University of Toronto for admission to their Medical College. She was refused because of her sex, the president telling her that “the doors of the university are not open to women and I trust they never will be.” Emily is said to have replied, “Then I will make it the business of my life to see that they will be opened, that women may have the same opportunities as men.” [Her daughter Augusta Stowe-Gullen later became the first woman to study and graduate in medicine from a Canadian university.]

She then enrolled in the New York Medical College for Women, leaving her three children in her sister’s care. In 1868 she graduated and moved her family to Toronto to become Canada’s first female practising physician. Because there was a great prejudice against women doctors she did not receive her formal licence until July 1880.

In addition to her medical practice she lectured in and around Toronto on women’s rights. In 1877 Dr. Stowe attended a meeting in Cleveland of the American Society for the Advancement of Women which inspired her to form, on November 3, 1877, the Toronto Women’s Literacy Club, later to become the Toronto Women’s Suffrage Club. She was an officer in this organization, as well as president of the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement League – a post she retained until her death.

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The official blog for Herstory: The Canadian Women's Calendar. An annual publication that celebrates notable Canadian women, Herstory is produced by the Saskatoon Women’s Calendar Collective (SWCC) and published by Coteau Books. Visit our website at
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