Born Maude Babin in St. Andrews East in 1869, Maude Abbott was orphaned as a young child by the death of her mother. The first cousin (once removed) of that other distinguished native of St. Andrews East, Prime Minister Sir John Abbott, Maude Abbott was adopted by her maternal grandmother, who had Maude’s family name legally changed to Abbott.
After graduating in 1885 from a private high school in Montreal, a teenaged Maude Abbott received a scholarship to study at McGill College, where she enrolled in the Faculty of Arts the following year. At McGill, Abbott excelled. She graduated in 1890, and received the prestigious Lord Stanley Gold Medal, among other honours.Yet despite her arts degree, Abbott’s real ambition was to study medicine. Accordingly, she applied to McGill’s Faculty of Medicine. At that time, however, it was McGill’s belief that women had no place in that field. Abbott’s application was turned down. Persevering, Abbott applied to the medical school of Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec. This time she was successful. The only woman in her class, she graduated with honours in 1894. She then went to Europe, where she furthered her studies for three more years.
Upon returning to Canada, Dr. Maude Abbott opened her own practice in Montreal, where she specialized in treating women and children, and where she later began her research into congenital heart disease, especially in newborn babies. Her research was well received by the medical community, and despite the deep prejudices against women in the medical field, her career began to take off. In time, she would become an authority on heart disease, recognized as such all around the world. And, of course, she would demonstrate for all the world to see that women, too, could excel in the fields of science and medicine. In 1898, Abbott was named Assistant Curator of the McGill Museum of Medicine. Two years later, she was appointed curator, a position she would hold until her retirement in 1936. During her tenure at the museum, Abbott organized the museum’s extensive collections and was instrumental in the founding of the International Association of Medical Museums. She also introduced the museum as a learning tool at McGill.
TURNING POINTA major turning point in Abbott’s career occurred in the early 1900s, when she met Dr. William Osler, the renowned Canadian physician and teacher. Osler was so impressed with the young woman doctor and her research on heart disease that he invited her to contribute a chapter in his forthcoming book, System of Modern Medicine. After visiting Abbott at McGill in 1904, Osler wrote to the Dean of Medicine that Abbott’s work was “the best McGill had done to date, that she had a genius for organizing [McGill's Medical Museum] and there was no collection in North America or Britain that came close to it.” This was quite an endorsement!In 1910 -- a full eight years before the school admitted women to the Faculty of Medicine -- McGill awarded Abbott an honorary medical degree and a lectureship in the Pathology Department. She was eventually promoted to an assistant professorship. Abbott retired in 1936, upon which McGill awarded her an honorary doctorate.
PIONEER WOMAN DOCTORIn her distinguished career, Abbott published over 100 papers and books and delivered many lectures. Her Atlas of Congenital Cardiac Disease (1936) confirmed her status at the top of her field. Abbott died of a brain hemorrhage in 1940. She was 71. Today, she is remembered not only as a pioneer woman doctor but also as a leader in pathology and cardiology. In 1993, the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated her a Person of National Historic Significance. She was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1994.
References: Anonymous, Christ Church Historical and Cultural Site, Saint-André-d’Argenteuil (Pamphlet).Library and Archives Canada, Maude Abbott (1869-1940), Physician. McGill Archives, Maude Abbott.