Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw - The Disruptor

12/10/2018 10:29:04 AM

Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw was a member of the last graduating class of the Ontario Medical College for Women (OMCW) in 1905. Unable to secure a residency at any hospital in Toronto due to her gender, she interned with Dr. Emma Leila Skinner, a fellow OMCW graduate and founder of a prenatal and natal care clinic for vulnerable women in Toronto. It was during her internship that Dr. Bagshaw, like many early medical women in Canada, made the decision to dedicate her professional career to improving women’s healthcare.

After gaining some clinical experience, Dr. Bagshaw moved to Hamilton, Ontario and started her own private practice. She quickly became known in the community for her maternity work. In 1931, she was approached by the newly-formed Birth Control Society of Hamilton to become the medical director of a clinic that the group was planning. In defiance of the country’s criminal code – which made it illegal to sell or advertise birth control – Canada’s first birth control clinic opened under the direction of Dr. Bagshaw in 1932. It offered family planning services to married women, the majority from working class families. Although religious leaders in the community frequently challenged Dr. Bagshaw and her work in the clinic, she believed that all women should have the right to access birth control. She continued her valuable work at the clinic for 34 years and eventually retired from her private practice at age 95.

In 1969 – 3 years after Dr. Bagshaw’s retirement – the criminal code was changed, giving all Canadians the right to plan their families.

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