Ancestor Anecdotes: Mothers of Medicine

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I used to think my mother was the only trailblazing pioneer in our family. Little did I know how outdated my thinking was.

My mother’s first foray into medicine - with her father in the early 1930s.

My mother’s first foray into medicine - with her father in the early 1930s.

 

Mum was just the third woman in Canada to earn a Fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians. (Her specialty was internal medicine, endocrinology.) I remember our family being in the newspaper quite often because it was so unusual to have a husband-and-wife medical family at the time. Most of the reporters who interviewed my mother (like the Toronto Star reporter who took the photo below) asked her questions about how she managed to be a good wife, mother and doctor - in that order.

Doctors Dayton Forman and Joan Vale with their daughters in the 1960s. (That bowl cut really suited my round head – said no one ever.)

Doctors Dayton Forman and Joan Vale with their daughters in the 1960s. (That bowl cut really suited my round head – said no one ever.)

 

Mum seems to have managed quite well. My parents stayed together until death did them part. My sister and I made it to adulthood without criminal records and with university degrees. Mum’s students at the University of Toronto and her patients at Women’s College Hospital adored her. (Not surprisingly, the reporters never asked my father how he managed to be a good husband, father and doctor/psychiatrist – in any order.)

And I just found out that Mum was actually old family news. Over a century before Mum graduated from U of T Meds her great-great-grandmother, Mary Goodwillie Young, was also a practicing doctor.

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While researching our family tree I accidentally discovered that there’s a park in Brampton, Ontario named after my 3rd great-grandmother. I was curious to find out why she had a park, so I contacted the incredibly helpful people at the City of Brampton.

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Here’s some of the information they sent me from the recommendation for creating the Mary Goodwillie Young Park.

 “Mary was of United Empire Loyalist extraction and grew up in Pennsylvania where she received some medical training. She was regarded as a doctor by people living locally in Chinguacousy and, according to an interview given by her grand-daughter in the 1930s, rode a white horse and was away from her family sometimes for several days at a time practicing her healing arts. She specialized in maternity cases in an age when many young women died in childbirth. … It was most unusual for a woman to have received medical training in the 1820s and 30s – an age when medical training was usually restricted to men. It was also very brave of her to actually practice medicine as there would have been quite a lot of discrimination against her.

Like Mum, Mary somehow managed to be a good wife (to her Scottish husband, Thomas), mother (she had 14 children) and doctor.

I come from an amazing gene pool!

(Except for the ancestor who was hung, drawn and quartered in Bristol in 1643 for being a traitor ... but we don't talk about him much.)

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Great (to the nth degree) Grandpa Bob, circa 1643.