Indigenous

Edith Anderson Monture: the 1st First Nations registered nurse in Canada

May 8 is Indigenous Nurses Day. Edith Monture, a Mohawk woman from Six Nations, Ont., was the first First Nations woman to become a registered nurse in Canada and she served in the First World War.

Mohawk woman from Six Nations volunteered with American forces in First World War

Edith Anderson Monture was born and raised on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario. As a First Nations woman, she had difficulty getting nursing training in Canada and attended nursing school in the United States. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, she served at an American base hospital in France. (submitted by the Moses family)

Edith Anderson Monture was the first First Nations woman to become a registered nurse in Canada, but she actually had to leave the country to pursue her dream.

Born on April 10, 1890 in Six Nations of the Grand River, Ont., the Mohawk woman struggled to be accepted to a Canadian nursing school. At the time, First Nations faced involuntary enfranchisement (loss of Indian status) for pursuing higher education.

She moved to the United States to attend the New Rochelle nursing school in New York state, and completed her degree in 1914.

"It's a tremendous source of pride because I know that for many years she was seen as a role model by a number of other nurses," said John Moses, Monture's grandson.

One of those other nurses is her daughter Helen Moses, who is one of the founding members of the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association. The association honoured Monture on its Facebook page this week.

WWI nurse 

Monture worked as a public health nurse in New York state until the United States entered the First World War in 1917. She volunteered for duty as a nursing sister with the American Expeditionary Force and spent more than a year as a nurse at Base Hospital 23 in Vittel, France, treating injured soldiers.

She returned to the U.S. in February 1919 after the war.

"Even then, it was on a hospital transport ship that was transporting wounded soldiers back home," said Moses.

Edith Monture with her husband Claybran Monture circa 1955. (John Moses)

She eventually returned to Six Nations, raising a family with her husband Claybran Monture, while continuing working as a nurse and midwife until the 1960s.

"She essentially was the permanent full-time medical presence on the reserve," said Moses.

"If you were born at Six Nations anytime between the 1920s up until the 1950s or 60s, there is a good chance that the first human hands to ever touch you were actually Edith's."

John Moses with his grandmother Edith Monture (right), and her sister Mary in Six Nations during summer 1981 when he was home on leave from the Navy. (John Moses)

Leaving a legacy

Monture died on April 3, 1996, a few days shy of her 106th birthday. Moses said her legacy has left an impact on not just his family, but the entire community and beyond. A street and a park in Brantford, Ont., are named in her memory.

"She's recognized as a pioneer in Indigenous health care in Canada," said Moses.

"I think it's safe to say she was regarded somewhat as a local legend if you will."

May 8 is 2019's Indigenous Nurses Day, part of Nursing Week in Canada leading up to International Nurses Day on May 12.

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. A former staff reporter for the Eastern Door, she works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.