Schoolteacher, physician, and mother. Kidd Trout (April 21, 1841 – November 10, 1921) was the first woman in Canada legally to become a medical doctor, and was the only woman in Canada licensed to practice medicine until 1880, when Emily Stowe completed the official qualifications. The field of the 19th Century was dominated by men while women struggled for the right to practice.
Jenny was six when she immigrated with her family to Ellice Township, Upper Canada. They developed a thriving ten-acre farm and regularly worshipped at Knox Presbyterian Church in nearby Stratford. She attended school in the town and in 1860 was accepted as an adult member of the Free Church. One year later Miss Gowanlock finished her training at the Normal School in Toronto, in about half the usual time, and from 1861 to 1865 she taught public school in the Stratford area. There she met Edward Trout, who sold advertising for the Toronto Leader in the region. After an extended courtship they married and settled in Toronto.
A lengthy illness occupied the next six years of Jennie Trout’s life, but when she recovered, she decided to take up a career in medicine. Jennie’s plans were encouraged by her husband, as well as by her longtime friend and mentor, Emily Stowe, who had been practising medicine in Toronto since 1867 although she was not licensed by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Entering a Man’s World
During most of the last century professional medical practice was exclusively a male domain. Hospitals were designed for the poor, since wealthy people could afford home treatment. In most hospitals, nursing care was provided by nursing sisters, or nuns. In cases where lay women acted as nurses, they were treated as little more than servants, with no professional respect. Florence Nightingale’s campaign to create a nursing profession only began to have an impact in Canada late in the nineteenth century.
In this climate, it is not surprising that the male medical establishment was hostile to the idea of educated and paid female doctors. When the Toronto School of Medicine reluctantly allowed Jennie Trout and Emily Stowe to attend lectures, it was on the condition that they “make no fuss, whatever happened.” Plenty happened. Trout and Stowe were the only women in a lecture hall filled with men. Led by the lecturers themselves, the male students jeered at the women. Obscene sketches had to be white-washed from the walls four times in the course of the lectures.
Finally, Trout went to the United States for her medical education. She returned to Canada in 1875 with a medical degree from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Licensed to Practice
Back in Ontario, Jennie Trout passed an examination before the College of Physicians and Surgeons, who complimented Mr. Trout for having “such a talented wife.” Jennie Trout went on to practice medicine at Toronto’s Therapeutic and Electrical Institute until 1882, when poor health forced her to retire. Still, she did not abandon the work she had begun, and her next objective was to establish a college for the medical education of women in Canada. After a long campaign to gather support for the college, Trout had another fight to see that women could sit on the college’s board of governors. Finally, the Women’s Medical College at Kingston opened on October 2, 1883, partly supported by a large financial contribution from Trout herself. The heroic struggles of Jennie Kidd Trout – the quiet woman whose life’s aim transcended personal ambition – opened the door for the many Canadian women doctors who came after her.
After retiring, Jennie continued to build a place for women in the medical field. Her campaigning culminated in the opening of the Women’s Medical College at Kingston on October 2, 1883.
In retirement, her interest increased in Bible study and missions. Jennie was a strong advocate of temperance. She filled, with much acceptance, the offices of Vice President and President of the Women’s Temperance Union. Also, for a time, she was Vice President of the Association for the Advancement of Women. She brought up two adopted children, grandnephew Edward Huntsman and grandniece, Helen Huntsman, after their mother died at an early age. Edward Huntsman-Trout was later a noted landscape architect in Los Angeles, CA.
The Trouts wintered in Florida at their winter residence and returned to Toronto for the summers. Their family home was called Gowan Hall in Scarborough, Ontario. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1908 where she died in 1921 at 1640 N. Hobart Blvd., Los Angeles, California.
In the past several decades, Jennie Trout has been rediscovered by Canadians. Her struggle to become the country’s first licensed female physician has been documented by at least two historians. Many Canadian books include reference to her, including The Canadian Men and Women of Our Time by Henry James Morgan, Toronto, 1912 and The Life and Times of Jennie Kidd Trout, and The Indomitable Lady Doctors by Caroline Hacker.
(The above are excerpts from various online sources.)