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A woman in a male profession

Photograph of a class of young adults, men and a few women, sepia. There are 35 students arranged around a room. They are all wearing black graduation gowns with a white sash with dark edges over the left shoulder. The men have short hair and the women have their hair tied behind their heads. They are in a room with a large carpet on the floor, in front of a balcony, stairs with columns and large bookshelves.

Maude Abbott’s graduation (2nd person from the left, 1st row), 1890

Maude worked at McGill University from 1898 to 1936, at a time when medicine was undergoing a major transformation. Throughout her career, she encountered countless challenges and showed tremendous perseverance.

Valiant as a knight in armour, she displayed a courage throughout her life of sadness and suffering, of weariness and despondency, which never faltered.”

Untiring! Generous! Enthusiastic!”  These were the traits that best described Maude Abbott, according to Dr. Helen MacMurchy of Toronto. Dr. Abbott made events live and specimens speak” she wrote in her eulogy following Maude’s death in 1940. The Dean of McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine, Dr. C.F. Martin, said “Recognition and honours came perhaps late to Dr. Abbott, but little affected her modesty or her energy.”

Maude Abbott didn’t see herself as a woman doctor or a feminist doctor working in a man’s world. Her contribution goes beyond all questions of gender. Through her actions, she demonstrated what a woman can accomplish in the medical profession. The prejudices expressed when she first entered the program quickly ceased to exist. As Dr. Martin said, “It was McGill’s refusal that prompted her to embrace the cause of educating women in medicine, an effort that was ultimately crowned with success.”

Colour photograph of a doctor’s bag and instruments. At the back there is a large rectangular black leather bag with a handle in the centre and clasps on both sides. The bag is slightly damaged at the corners. In front of the bag and to the left is a smaller case, also made of black leather. It is open, showing a beige interior. The case contains a large beige-grey cotton bandage. A blood pressure bulb and a gold-coloured sphygmomanometer lean against the case. To the right, there is an old syringe in a cardboard box and three needles can be seen to its left.

Medical kit

Maude was a scientist, working tirelessly to advance medical knowledge. She was a colleague, a workmate, a collaborator. Gifted with outstanding academic qualities, she became a true doctor. « She was an inspiration to us all, pathologists and clinicians alike. » Dr. Paul D. White of Harvard Medical School echoed the sentiment: “Maude Abbott will be missed and best remember as a living force in the medicine of her generation.”

Maude Abbott, the “beneficient tornado”, contributed in her own way to the acceptance of women in the male world of medicine.