Celebrating the 110th Anniversary of Women’s College Hospital

Women’s College Hospital, 1911.

Celebrating the 110th Anniversary of Women’s College Hospital

November 10th marks a special anniversary in the history of Women’s College Hospital (WCH). On this day 110 years ago, WCH officially opened the doors to its first inpatient hospital becoming Canada’s first women’s hospital to be operated by women physicians.

However, the establishment of WCH did not come over night. It was the result of a decade long struggle by a small group of women who were determined to improve access to quality healthcare for women in Toronto.

Inspired by the success of the Women’s Dispensary – an outpatient clinic for women and their families operated by women doctors – a planning committee for the establishment of a women’s hospital was formed in 1899. Comprised of women doctors and prominent women in the community, the committee began planning for a women’s general hospital in Toronto. Although they often faced public ridicule by some in the male dominated medical profession, the women persevered.

With a down payment of four hundred dollars, a small residential house at 18 Seaton Street was purchased. The busy Women’s Dispensary was relocated to the main floor of the house and seven inpatient beds were set up in the three rooms upstairs.

On November 10, 1911, a short dedication ceremony marked the formal opening of Women’s College Hospital and Dispensary. Operating under the slogan “Women’s Work for Women’s Need”, WCH provided a place where women doctors could practice medicine and offered the women of Toronto the opportunity to receive “medical and surgical care by physicians and surgeons of their own sex.”

The first staff of WCH consisted of fifteen female physicians and one nurse. During its first year of operation, WCH served 2,034 outpatients and 114 inpatients, with stays ranging from one to twelve weeks. A total of twenty-five babies were also born at WCH that year.

The survival of WCH during its early years can be attributed to the support of the community and its overwhelming desire to see a hospital for women succeed in Toronto. As Dr. E.L. Skinner Gordon, one of the founders of WCH, explained,

“During these early days, everybody sacrificed to help. New supplies were donated by friends; and by friends also, old things were mended. Meals, or part meals [were] cooked by others and sent in. It was a great experience to watch and pray and give thanks as we found all our need met and everyone happy.”

– Dr. E.L. Skinner Gordon, one of the founders of Women’s College Hospital

Over the years, WCH continued thrive and prosper. Only a mere four years later, the hospital moved to a larger facility that could accommodate almost four times more inpatient beds than the house at 18 Seaton Street.

Today, 110 years later, WCH continues to grow and evolve – and just as our founders fought to improve access to quality healthcare for women, WCH continues the fight to break down barriers in pursuit of equitable healthcare for all.