Dr. Charlotte W. Ross, M.D. 

(1843-1916)

Charlotte Ross, Western Canada’s first female doctor, who lived and practiced medicine in Whitemouth, Manitoba, for most of her adult life.

Ross was born in England in 1843 and came to Canada in 1847, settling in Montreal with her family. She felt compelled to study medicine as a result of her beloved sister Mary Anne’s death. With the support of her husband, David Ross, she graduated from the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia in 1875 - no medical school in Canada was open to women at that time.

After her graduation, Ross began treating women in Montreal in 1876, but she faced much opposition from established doctors – all men – practicing there. In 1881, she moved to Whitemouth, Manitoba with her family. Initially, she did not practice medicine in Whitemouth, but as news of the doctor’s presence began to spread, calls for help began, and she felt compelled to help those in need. Regardless of her own personal situation at the time, no calls were refused.

She travelled to her patients by whatever means available – by horse and buggy, railway handcar, sleigh, canoe, ox team, or on foot. Ross helped her patients in their homes with more than medical assistance. After bringing a baby into the world, she would usually scrub floors, do laundry, cook and bake bread for the families before she left. In the warmer months, she would bring roses from her garden for new mothers.

Ross treated settlers and Indigenous patients alike, and often patients would travel great distances for her kind and respectful treatment. She was an early advocate of antiseptic measures that later would become the norm in medicine. Among other things, when any money was brought into the home, the bills would be pressed with a “sad” iron and coins would be boiled, to destroy bacteria and viruses.

She continued to practice for many years, although she was never formally licensed by the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1912, after the death of her husband, Ross moved to Winnipeg. She died at her home in 1916 and was buried in Brookside Cemetery.

The Charlotte W. Ross Gold Medal for highest marks in obstetrics was given annually in the Manitoba Medical College. Established by her granddaughter, Dr. Edith Ross, it was first awarded in 1917. Now, the Dr. Charlotte W. Ross Memorial Award goes to a graduate in medicine enrolled in postgraduate studies in obstetrics and gynecology.

Ross was posthumously licensed to practice medicine by the Manitoba legislature in 1993. Dr. Charlotte Ross was a mother, a friend and a noble, self-sacrificing physician, who was forged by pioneer conditions. She held it her highest honour that she was a general practitioner.

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