Notable Women Ancestors - Jennie Kidd Gowanlock Trout
Jennie Kidd Gowanlock Trout

Jennie TroutJennie Kidd Gowanlock was born on April 21, 1841 in Wooden Mills, Parish of Kelso, Scotland. She came to Canada with her parents (Andrew Gowanlock and Elizabeth Kidd) in 1847. Jennie's name is often also seen spelled as "Jenny".

The Gowanlocks were descendants of a persecuted Swiss preacher who fled to Scotland in the middle of the 18th century. On her mother's side, they were descended from the Danes. Her grandmother was Elizabeth Haldane, being born in Haldane Hall and descended from Robert and James Haldane, noted preachers of reform in Glasgow at the beginning of the 1800's.

After coming to Canada, the Gowanlocks lived just north of Stratford, Ontario where they grew potatoes, turnips, hay, and produced butter on a ten-acre farm. They were members of the Knox Presbyterian Church, the local branch of the Free Kirk.

After doing well through school, Jennie traveled to Toronto in 1860 where, at 19, she was baptized and took upon herself the Christian name and profession. She came in contact with the earliest Restoration Movement Church in Toronto, the Shuter Street Church of Christ founded in 1838 by James Beaty, Sr.

A year later Jennie graduated from Normal School in Toronto and returned to the Stratford area where she taught for the next four years. It was during this time that her friendship with businessman Edward Trout blossomed. Edward was the general agent for the Toronto Leader at that time. When she (Jennie) taught a good, large country school near Stratford, Ontario (S.S. #8, Ellice Township, between Brunner and Moserville), he (Edward) would keep a sharp lookout after business in that section, and come around Friday afternoons with the fine fleet steed and a good riding rig his employer furnished, and would take her home. Of course, that was a nice journey for her and nice for him, too, to ride alongside a graduate of the Ontario Normal School, who as teachers outranked all others; but the real interest was not in the teacher, that was only incidental, it was in the girl. There was sure to be needed business for Saturday, and on Monday another happy journey to school.

The couple was married August 25, 1865 at Knox Presbyterian Church in Stratford. At the time of their marriage, the Gowanlocks still lived in Ellice Township, Perth County (near Stratford), Ontario. Two years later Edward and his brother John established the Monetary Times, a financial weekly published in Toronto. When John Trout died of tuberculosis in 1876 leaving Edward as sole proprietor, the paper was a highly respected business journal in Canada.

The first six years of marriage for Jennie were marked by nervous disorders, which would reduce her to a semi-invalid. However, she found some temporary relief in Electro-therapeutics considered at that time as the best means of combating nervous disorders. It was during these years of sickness that Jennie realized she wanted to take up medicine.

Jennie was the first woman physician licensed to practice in Canada. She passed the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons matriculation exam in 1871. She then enrolled in the School of Medicine at the University of Toronto later in 1871 and completed her session in Toronto in spring of 1872, continuing for 3 years at the Women's Medical College in Pennsylvania. Jennie received her M.D. degree from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in March 11, 1875 and returned to Toronto where on May 13, 1875, she passed the examinations of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, at the age of 34.

The forceful Canadian suffragette, Emily Stowe, who had a medical degree from the New York Medical College, attended the School of Medicine at the University of Toronto at the same time. Dr. Stowe did not pass the exams of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons until 1880, although she ignored the laws and practiced medicine in Canada with her American degree. Dr. Jennie Kidd Trout was the only woman physician licensed to practice in Canada until 1880.

While Jennie Trout and Emily Stowe were students at the Toronto School of Medicine, they did not have an easy time in the classroom as they were the focus of crude practical jokes by the male students and lewd stories from some professors. Jennie confronted one professor by threatening to go to his wife if he ever told such stories in her hearing again. He evidently took her advice to refrain from such tales.

Dr. Trout opened the Therapeutic and Electrical Institute, featuring "special facilities for giving treatment to ladies by galvanic baths or electricity". Dr. Trout's practice grew rapidly; the Therapeutic and Electrical Institute encompassed 6 houses adjoining the family residence and could accommodate up to 60 patients, located at 272 Jarvis Street, in Toronto. Six months after opening the Institute, she began operating a free dispensary for the poor. Jennie attempted to defray the mounting costs of the dispensary by delivering lectures on medicine in such places as Toronto, Brantford, Meaford and Hamilton. However, the fees from the speaking engagements would not meet the costs of the dispensary and what has been described as "an extraordinary departure in late Victorian Ontario, and particularly extraordinary for an upper-middle-class woman of Scottish descent" closed its doors in 1876.

The Institute thrived and branches were opened in Hamilton and Brantford, Ont. A male physician joined the Institute in 1880 as a consulting physician, the first time in Ontario that a male doctor was a "consulting physician" at a female-run institution. All the effort placed a strain on her health and Jennie was forced to withdraw to a retreat in Palma Sola, Florida in February 1882. She retired from the medical profession at the end of that year (41 years of age).

In April 1883, Jennie offered $10,000 to set up a medical college for women in Toronto. She stipulated that it should be established on "liberal" principles - in other words that there should be a majority of women on the board of governors and that women were to be admitted to the staff of the school. The medical establishment was prepared to sponsor a woman's medical college, but not a "liberal" one. Because of the struggle over control, she shifted her support to establish a medical college at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. The Toronto medical college opened on October 1, 1883 and the Kingston Women's Medical College opened the next day with Jennie Trout as one of the trustees. The two colleges merged as the Ontario Medical College for Women in Toronto in 1894.

In retirement, her interest increased in Bible study and missions. Jennie was a strong advocate of temperance. She filled, with much acceptance, the offices of Vice President and President of the Women's Temperance Union. Also, for a time, she was Vice President of the Association for the Advancement of Women. She brought up two adopted children, grandnephew Edward Huntsman and grandniece, Helen Huntsman, after their mother died at an early age. Edward Huntsman-Trout was later a noted landscape architect in Los Angeles, CA.

The Trouts wintered in Florida at their winter residence and returned to Toronto for the summers. Their family home was called Gowan Hall in Scarborough, Ontario. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1908 where she died in 1921 at 1640 N. Hobart Blvd., Los Angeles, California.

In the past several decades, Jennie Trout has been rediscovered by Canadians. Her struggle to become the country's first licensed female physician has been documented by at least two historians. Many Canadian books include reference to her, including The Canadian Men and Women of Our Time by Henry James Morgan, Toronto, 1912 and The Life and Times of Jennie Kidd Trout, and The Indomitable Lady Doctors by Caroline Hacker.

Many historical items exist in remembrance of Jennie. These include:

  • A partial room display in the Stratford, Ontario museum, showing her medical equipment and descriptions of her professional history;

  • The Jenny Trout Centre in Stratford (medical offices), named in her honor;

  • A Canadian 40 cent postage stamp bearing her portrait, circulated in 1991, commemorating her achievement as the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada;

  • A CRB Foundation Heritage Minute, aired on Canadian television in the 1990's, re-enacting her struggle at the University of Toronto to be part of an all male class of medical students;

  • A half hour segment of a series derived from the heritage minute focused on Trout as not only the first female physician but an early Canadian feminist;

  • McDonald's Restaurants Canada, seeking to promote national pride by means of paper place mats, included Jennie, "Ms. M.D.", as one of the featured historical figures.

Trout's connection to the Restoration Movement in Canada is largely unknown by its modern day adherents. Her courage and determination in pursuing a career in medicine, in an era when such was not viewed favorably, her subsequent compassion and service to the poor, and her active role in helping other Canadian women pursue careers in medicine were all very personal expressions of Jennie's faith in God. Her mind and her heart were concentrated on doing "much good work for the Master."

Jennie was a first cousin of my great grandfather. Most of information included here came from the Life and Times of Jennie Kidd Trout, Darrell Buchanan, Toronto, ON. Material first appeared in Leaven: A Publication for Ministry of Churches of Christ, 3/3 (1995) with originating information from Trout Family History, by W.H. Trout, 1916.

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