Professions And Careers Open To Women (c1898-1900)
From the book "Women of Canada - Their Life and Work" (published c1900)
Compiled by the National Council of Women of Canada
At The Request of The Hon. Sydney Fisher, Minister of Agriculture
For Distribution At The Paris International Exhibition, 1900

Startled with a heritage of old world traditions, Canada has remained one of the most conservative parts of the British Empire. Life, for the early settlers, was an intense struggle with physical nature, leaving little leisure for the birth and development of new ideas. A few who were in advance of their time were too isolated to initiate any movement which required corporate life, and old-fashioned customs continued to prevail. 

Even now, the people respond slowly to onward impulses, and questions answered elsewhere are living issues in Canada. The higher education of woman is a thing of to-day and their unrestricted admission to the learned professions would be out of harmony with the spirit of the country. 

Co-education has long been the rule in the elementary and secondary schools of several provinces, and training schools for teachers have been filled with women; but it is only eighteen years since the first woman to obtain a B.A. degree in Canada graduated from  Mount Allison  University, a small institution in New Brunswick.

The first effect of the higher education of women was an improvement in their positions in a profession recognized as coming within their sphere. For many years, the elementary education of the country had been almost exclusively in the charge of women, while secondary and collegiate education had been as exclusively in the hands of men. Conditions so unfavorable to the normal development of children are beginning to pass away. It is true that few men will accept positions in elementary schools, but a rapidly increasing number of women are employed in high schools and collegiate institutes.

Generalizations in regard to the teaching profession in Canada are almost impossible. " There is, unfortunately, no Dominion school law, but each province has its own system of education, and, as a rule, refuses to accept the highest teaching certificate granted in another part of the country. With this lack of uniformity in the qualifications demanded is associated great variations in the salaries of teachers of equal ability and training. 

In the East, where nearly one-half of the women graduating from the universities become teachers, women are paid about one-third as much as men doing similar  work. In British Columbia, on the contrary, sex is not a factor in the determination of the position or; salary granted to any teacher.  The lowest salaries are paid in the Province of Quebec, where a few teachers receive ninety dollars a year, and, where a country municipality has fixed one hundred and twenty dollars as the maximum salary for the teachers of elementary schools. 

In Montreal, exceptional women engaged in secondary education receive salaries varying from six hundred to nine hundred dollars a year. The highest salaries are to be obtained in Ontario and British, Columbia, teachers in high schools and collegiate institutes often earning fifteen hundred dollars- per annum. In Western Canada, therefore, the position of women in secondary schools is fairly satisfactory, and the excellent posts occupied by them in the Ontario Medical College for Women may be taken as the promise of better things to come. 

But, it is only in Quebec that women have been appointed members of the teaching staff of a university.  At McGill University, one has held a lectureship in McGill College for five years; and, last September, a warden and several tutors entered upon their duties in connection with the Royal Victoria College for women. All these women do work similar to, and have the status of men on the University staff. In summing up, however, it must be said that the teaching profession is overcrowded, and the prospect is cheerless. Teachers are overworked and underpaid, and there is comparatively little hope of advancement for even the best trained and most talented Canadian women teachers.

Another time-honored occupation or -nursing, raised to the rank of a profession by the establishment of training schools in connection with the great hospitals. So remunerative, honorable and even fashionable has nursing become that there is some danger of the restless and dissatisfied seeking in it a refuge from themselves rather than opportunities for service. 'This is, however, only a temporary phase ; while already in hospitals, in private nursing, in charitable institutions, and in the Victorian Order, are 'to be found most talented and devoted women, who by their work for the sick and the poor have done much to overcome prejudices against the entrance of women into the medical profession.

In 1867, Dr. Stowe,. a graduate of the New York Medical. College for Women, startled Toronto by establishing herself there as practising physician. Still later, she astonished the University authorities by entering her daughter as a student in the Toronto School of Medicine.  Miss Stowe graduated in 1883 ; and the following year Miss Smith obtained the degree of M.D., from Queen's University, Kingston. 

The Medical schools, however, regarded women students with disfavour, and the demand for the medical education of women having greatly increased, the Ontario Medical College for Women was established. Here, the students receive the greater part of their training, supplementing it by a few lectures in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Toronto. Thus, women are prepared for the degree examinations of Trinity University and of the University of Toronto. This close connection with the Universities, combined with experience gained in the city hospitals, prevents the inferiority of attainment inevitable in a small institution separated from great foundations.

In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, most liberal views in regard to the education of women have always been held. The first to apply for admission to the Universities were welcomed without discussion or hesitation. Only a few have studied in the professional schools and have taken M.D. degrees, but these are meeting with encouragement and even success in practice. In Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and British Columbia, the Medical Boards issue licenses to women upon the same terms as men, and the former labour under no disadvantages in their professional life.

Recent developments have led to the exclusion of women from the only Medical School hitherto open to them in the Province of Quebec. The professional faculties of McGill University have never admitted women as undergraduates.  But for several year's they have been enrolled as students in the Faculty of Medicine of Bishop's College, and, have been granted all the privileges accorded to men. At first, these women obtained their practical training in the Montreal General Hospital, the most extensive clinical field in Canada. Soon, however, the Hospital authorities withdrew this privilege because of theoretic objections to the presence of women in the character of medical students. 

The Royal Victoria Hospital also refused admission to women students, and only a small foundation, the Western Hospital is open to them. But this Institution has but fifty beds, while the. regulations both of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Quebec and of the General Medical Council of Great Britain and Ireland, require that candidates for Medical degrees shall have attended clinics in a. hospital having at least one hundred beds. In consequence of the impossibility of women obtaining the hospital experience necessary for a license to practise, the governors of Bishop's College have reluctantly closed the senior classes of the Medical Faculty and the degree examinations to women.

Unless, therefore, one of the large hospitals can  be induced to permit women to share " the exceptional opportunities for clinical instruction and practical training " enjoyed by men students, or, failing this, unless the Western Hospital be endowed and extended so as to meet the requirements of the Medical Acts of Canada and of Great Britain, it will remain impossible for the women of Quebec to qualify for an M. D. degree in their own province. 

This retrograde movement has occurred at a time when women physicians and surgeons have conquered prejudice, not only in non-professional, but in professional circles. Last winter, for the first time, the Montreal Medical Society received a paper prepared by a woman, and, at a subsequent meeting, a resolution was passed, authorizing the admission of duly qualified women to membership in the Society. The author of the paper, Dr. Abbott, after graduating from Bishop's College, spent several years in Vienna, engage in post -graduate work. A few months ago she was appointed assistant curator of the Pathological Museum of McGill University, and already she has accomplished  enough to justify her appointment. Dr. Abbott is only one of several women doctors with similar training, women who, having proved faithful and skilful practitioners, have won the confidence of the public.

Into the minor professions allied to medicine, namely, dentistry and pharmacy, women have entered in small numbers, but without opposition. In the opportunities for acquiring the preliminary training and the qualifications demanded for admission to these careers no distinction is made between the sexes and, as in trades and agriculture, the success to Le attained depends entirely upon the ability of the practitioner.

Little need be said in regard to women in the other learned professions.  At present, there is but one woman barrister in Canada. Miss Brett Martin obtained the degree of B.C.L. from the University of Toronto, in 1897 and the degree of LL. B.  in 1899. In order that she might be enrolled as a solicitor and barrister, amendments to the provincial law and to the regulations of the Law - Society of Ontario were enacted. Miss Martin is now a member of a well known Toronto firm of lawyers. No woman has applied for admission to study for the practice of law in the other provinces. In Manitoba and British Columbia, they are not legally disqualified from admission to the Bar, but it is otherwise in the east. Dalhousie University would give the necessary training to women, but the Barristers' Act of Nova Scotia prohibits their practising. 

In Quebec, on the contrary, women are excluded from the Faculties of Law in the various Universities. If, however, a woman were to obtain the training demanded by the General Council of the Bar of the Province of Quebec by studying in some notary's or attorney's office for four years, there is apparently nothing in the statutes which would debar her from admission to the practice of Law.  But, as custom is taken into account in the interpretation of a statute; it is probable that conservatism would prevail, and a test case would be decided against a woman-candidate for admission to the Bar.

Following the example of the primitive Church, the Order of Deaconesses has been revived in several denominations, and women, subordinate to the clergy, are set apart for special work in the Church Even in more radical lands, few religious' bodies have admitted women  to the pastorate; in Canada, therefore, where the conservative denominations are in the majority, many years wiil probably pass before women are regularly trained, and ordained as ministers. At present, impelled by religious devotion, some go out as missionaries and some join charitable sisterhoods. Leaders of reform  movements, who unite a love of humanity to the power organization, do effectual work in connection with various societies. A few, endowed with eloquence and . spiritual insight, have ample opportunity for speaking in public upon ethical subjects.

Women who have literature, music, or art for a profession are also unhampered in the exercise of their talents. But the country is too young and too thinly populated to afford an adequate field for the exercise of unusual gifts. In consequence, Canada's most celebrated singer is seldom heard at home; the best Canadian pictures are hung in foreign salons ; the best books are published first in London and New York. But they are of Canada and for Canada, and loved and honoured by Canadians for present worth and future promise.

Without aggression, without any noisy obtrusiveness, a few Canadian women by deep thought, by clear vision, or by honest service have prepared the way for those who will follow, and have proved the right of all to work as they are able.

CARRIE M. DERICK
MONTREAL, 1900

Return to Women of Montreal
Back to the homepage
Questions, Comments or Suggestions?
contact
Patty Brown
coordinator of the MontréalGenWeb