Helen MacMurchy


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(1862–1953), physician. Daughter of the principal of Toronto Collegiate Institute, MacMurchy taught literature at her father's school for two decades before realizing a lifelong ambition to become a physician. In 1901 she graduated from the University of Toronto with first class honours in medicine and surgery. Allying with conservative feminist organizations such as the National Council of Women, MacMurchy became an advocate for public health, maternalist, and eugenic reforms. As the Ontario government's Inspector of the Feebleminded (1906–19) and as author of three influential studies on infant mortality (1910–12), she called for improved social, educational, and health care resources for the mentally ill, the ‘feeble-minded’, infants, and mothers. Her 1920 appointment as chief, Child Welfare Division, of the newly formed federal Department of Health, signalled government recognition of women's health advocacy and improved support for health care. Well remembered for her little Blue Books, later amalgamated into The Canadian Mothers' Book, which provided health advice to thousands of Canadian mothers, MacMurchy also produced a major study, Maternal Mortality in Canada (1928), during her years in Ottawa. She retired in 1934, and returned to her native Toronto, where she continued to promote health reform and women's professional development.

From The Oxford Companion to Canadian History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: History of the Americas.

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