Earlier this year, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada would likely feature a woman on a new Canadian Bank note.
Since the only woman to serve as prime minister served for a very brief time, this has led to a search for a woman who was not an elected politician. I’ve seen many names put forth and they all seem to be deeply admirable people and we would likely all be proud to have them honoured in this way.
I’d like to put another name forward. Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw.
It’s impossible to practice medicine in Hamilton and not to have heard of Dr. Bagshaw. I was part of a team from the Hamilton Academy of Medicine who nominated her, successfully, for the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. During that time I got to know her story well.
Dr. Bagshaw was born on a family farm in rural Ontario. She was a driven person and became one of the first female doctors in Canada.
She competed her medical degree and did post-graduate training in Toronto. She moved to Hamilton and started practice in 1906. She continued to practice for 70 years and finally retired at age 95. She had a very active obstetrical practice and delivered thousands and thousands of babies. For three consecutive years in the 1920s she delivered more babies than any other doctor in Hamilton.
All of that is very impressive but it is her advocacy work for women and their families that is her legacy.
In the 1930s she started Canada’s first birth control clinic. She served as medical director of that clinic for 30 years.
During that entire 30 year period it was illegal to counsel women about birth control. Dr. Bagshaw deliberately defied the law to improve the lives of women and their families. Where can we find such medical heroes now?
Dr. Bagshaw always put the needs of her patients first. One could spend years trying to better summarize the code of ethics of a physician and not come up with a better summary of duty than that brief sentence.
Dr. Bagshaw would be an inspiration to young girls and boys today. She would teach us all about our own humanity. She is an inspiration to at least one grumpy, middle-aged family doctor in Hamilton today.
Dr. Elizabeth Bagshaw would look great on a new Canadian bank note.
Scott D Woooder, MD