150+ Canadians Day 90: Elizabeth Bagshaw

Image: Library & Archives Canada (MIKAN3933459)

Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw worked outside the law to establish the first Birth Control Clinic in Canada.

Dr. Bagshaw affected profound change at a time of great adversity. She pursued a career in medicine at a time when women were not accepted in the field. Dr. Bagshaw entered Toronto Women’s Medical College in 1901, just 18 years after it opened. She established a family practice, with a focus on obstetrics in Hamilton, Ontario. For three successive years in the 1920’s Dr. Bagshaw signed more birth certificates than any other Hamilton doctor. Working before the existence of public healthcare, she often worked for free to care for families who couldn’t afford care. (Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Video)

In 1932 she established the first birth control clinic, which at the time was illegal. She served as the clinic’s medical director for over 30 years and pioneers areas of family medicine that, while universal now, were not widely practiced.

She believed it a detriment to the country for families to have more children than they could afford, she provided reproductive information and education, and championed the notion that women are in control of their reproductive destinies. In 1969, the clinic became legal.

Founder of the Canadian Federation of Medical Women, Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw has received numerous awards and honours. In 1973, she was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 1979 she received the Governor General Persons Award. She was named Hamilton’s Citizen of the Year in 1970 and the Hamilton Academy of Medicine established a guest lectureship in her name in 1981.

In 1976, she retired from active medical practice at the age of 95, the oldest practicing physician in Canada.

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