Black History and Futures Month
February marks the beginning of Black History Month – a crucial period to honor the contributions and accomplishments of Black Canadians in shaping both Women’s College Hospital, Foundation, and Canada, while acknowledging the difficulties faced by this community and continue to face due to systemic discrimination.
February is also a time to celebrate Black joy as part of Black Futures Month, which was established by the Movement for Black Lives in 2015 and is held in conjunction with Black History Month to provide the space to dream and imagine what the future may hold for Black people.
Today and every day, it is essential to educate ourselves and spread awareness of Black history and activism that may be left out of mainstream narratives, and to continue to challenge the oppressive systems that still persist.
As we celebrate Black History and Futures Month here at Women’s, we recognize and celebrate the Black visionary women of Women’s College Hospital.
These two trailblazing women are just a handful of the Black women who have made immense contributions to the field of healthcare and have paved the way for future generations at Women’s College Hospital and Foundation. By acknowledging their work, sacrifices, and struggles, we continue to challenge the systemic barriers that exist and work towards a more inclusive and equitable future for all Black women in the healthcare industry. Let us take this opportunity to celebrate and uplift their achievements and ensure that their legacies live on.
Agnes Clinton was the first Black nursing student to graduate from the WCH School of Nursing.
After completing high school in Toronto, Agnes Clinton tried to pursue a career as a nurse but had difficulty finding a nursing school that would accept her. As she explained, “They said I was too tall, too big, would do better somewhere else, or some other excuse.”
On a friend’s advice, she applied to WCH and was accepted into its 3-year nursing program in 1948. At WCH, Clinton developed great friendships with her classmates and acquired a passion for surgical nursing. On June 1, 1951, Clinton became the first Black nursing student to graduate from the WCH School of Nursing.
Clinton began her nursing career as a surgical nurse at WCH and then studied public health nursing at UofT. She worked as a Public Health Nurse for the next 13 years and then completed substance abuse training at Yale University’s Summer School of Alcohol Studies – the first national training institution for alcoholism professionals in the United States.
Clinton accepted a position with the Detroit Health Department to help establish a public health program to improve healthcare for the city’s homeless population. After more than 2 decades with the program, she transferred to a city-run community mental health program for people living with HIV.
Marilyn Todd was the first Black student nurse to be voted Valedictorian at the WCH School of Nursing.
While still a high school student at York Memorial Collegiate, Todd was already an accomplished pianist. She had won numerous awards and scholarships at the Kiwanis and Peel Music Festivals and held recitals at the Eaton Auditorium and the CNE.
After graduating high school, she enrolled in the WCH School of Nursing. Todd was highly respected by her nursing classmates and was voted Class Valedictorian by the WCH Class of 1958.
Todd began her nursing career at WCH. Over the next four decades, she worked as a nurse in orthopaedics, urology, and was a Team Leader in surgery. In 1970 she was recruited to join the newly built York-Finch Hospital where she directed its Employee Education program until her retirement in 1997. Throughout her nursing career, Todd was also an active member of the Ontario Nurses’ Association and held a position on its executive committee.