Maude Abbott (1869 – 1940)

Pioneering Pathologist

Of course, Maude Abbott is an important historical figure because she opened the door for women to practise medicine in Quebec. But her life story also illustrates the enormous challenges her era posed to women in general. In 1890, she became one of the first women to obtain a bachelor’s degree from McGill. Despite her exemplary record, however, she was subsequently denied admission to the University’s medical school. Still she persevered, earning a medical degree from Bishop’s College in 1894. After postgraduate studies in Europe, she thankfully overlooked McGill’s earlier snubbing and returned to curate its Medical Museum. There she became a renowned teacher and expert on congenital heart disease, and her research caught the attention of none other than Sir William Osler, who asked her to write a section on the subject for his System of Medicine. Her work on this and other projects culminated in her seminal Atlas of Congenital Cardiac Disease (1936). During her distinguished career, Abbott also emerged as an advocate for women’s rights as a founder of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada. McGill awarded her an honorary MDCM in 1910 and, at her retirement in 1936, an honorary degree which recognized her as “a stimulating teacher, an indefatigable investigator and a champion of higher education.” McGill has tried to rectify its earlier shortsightedness with these distinctions. Now it’s time for the public to acknowledge Abbott’s vast contributions to medicine and the history of our University by naming her the Greatest McGillian!