After honouring 99 men, McGill medical building recognizes pioneer Maude Abbott

Medical pioneer Maude Abbott is taking her rightful place among the men in McGill's history.

Refused entry to McGill medical school because she was a woman, Abbott went on to work for the university

Medical pioneer Maude Abbott is being recognized with a plaque at McGill University. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Ninety-nine plaques adorn the walls of McGill's Strathcona Medical Building with each honouring a person's contribution to the university and medicine, and they are all of men — until now.

Medical pioneer Maude Abbott is taking her rightful place among them.

"We thought it would be appropriate that Maude Abbott's name was finally put up on these walls where she had such an influence and where she spent much of her academic life," said Richard Fraser, the director of the Maude Abbott Medical Museum and the man who pushed to have Abbott honoured.

Refused entry to McGill as a medical student in 1899 because she was a woman, Abbott didn't hold a grudge. After getting her degree at Bishop's University, she came back to the school that refused her.

Over two decades, Abbott turned McGill's medical museum into one of the premiere medical education museums in North America.

But it's her research on congenital cardiac anomalies and the atlas she published on the topic that she is best known for.

See where medical pioneers are honoured at McGill University

Medical pioneer Maude Abbott is being recognized with a plaque at McGill University. 0:48

Her work laid the foundation for surgery and treatment of the disease.

She also used her stature and experience to advocate for women's rights.

"She became the first woman faculty member of McGill to be allowed in the faculty club," Fraser said.

"The argument was that they didn't have bathrooms for women, I'm sure there were other reasons as well."

McGill's newly revamped medical museum is officially known as the Maude Abbott Medical Museum. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Plaques in Strathcona

Built in 1909, the original plans of the Strathcona building included 33 plaques per floor, 99 in all. Some pioneering men were honoured immediately, others came later.

It isn't known for sure, but Fraser believes the criteria to get a plaque was to have least been an associate professor or tenured professor.

"Maude Abbott was eventually named an assistant professor in 1925 after many, many, years at McGill," said Fraser.

"She never reached the level of associated professor, so that may be one of the reasons why her name was not put on a plaque."

Fraser took it upon himself to ensure Abbott was honoured.

Plaques honouring other medical pioneers are on the walls of the Strathcona Building. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Some Maude Abbott firsts 

  • One of the first women to graduate with arts degree at McGill.
  • First woman faculty member to be admitted to McGill Faculty Club.
  • Co-founder of International Association of Medical Museums.
  • Co-founder of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada.
  • Co-founder of the McGill University Club of Women.


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