Maude Abbott


Maude Abbott 


International Association of Medical Museums Founding Mother and Secretary Treasurer 1907 - 1940



Born - 18 March 1869 St. Andrews East, Quebec 


Died - 2 September 1940 Montreal, Quebec 


Academic Degrees - BA: McGill University, Montreal 1890; MD: Bishop's College, Montreal 1894; MD, CM: McGill University, Montreal (honoris causa) 


Academic Positions - 1889 - 1900 Assistant Curator of Medical Museum, McGill University; 1901 - 1932 Curator of Medical Museum, McGill University; 1905 - 1909 Governor's Fellow in Pathology, McGill University; 1910 - 1923 Lecturer in Pathology, McGill University; 1923 - 1925 Professor of Pathology & Bacteriology and Director of Clinical Laboratories, Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (on loan from McGill); 1925 - 1936 Assistant Professor of Medical Research, McGill University and Member University Clinic Staff, Royal Victoria Hospital



Selective Career Highlights:


  • The "Moving Spirit", "Chief Pillar", and First and Longest Lasting Secretary-Treasurer (1907-1940, the year of her death) of the International Association of Medical Museums (IAMM), and the subsequent IAP. The Letterhead of the IAP contains the phrase "Founded by Maude Abbott in 1906". The IAMM "survived mainly because of her persistence, interests and desire to make it work". She helped found the British section of the IAMM, and several others.
  • "Founding" expert and "world's authority" in identifying congenital heart disease. Considered by most to be the definitive "summing up" of available information. 1936: Atlas of Congenital Cardiac Disease.
  • "A superbly energetic woman, she was one of Canada's first internationally respected medical figures, and certainly the first woman physician to achieve such prominence."
  • Her grandfather and granduncle were both present at the first meeting of the Governors of McGill University (1829) and the uncle was a bursar and later librarian at McGill. Maude was proud of the fact that she was the only person on the teaching staff in whose veins flowed the blood of an ancestor present at this meeting.
  • Petitioned McGill University for admission to Medical School but was rejected because of her gender (" would establish what (the Faculty) fear would be a dangerous precedent...already declared themselves opposed to co-education in medicine" and "..that mixed classes are objectionable for reasons which must occur to everyone"). A loyal graduate of the McGill Arts programme (the third graduating class) President and Editor of her classes throughout; graduated as Class Valedictorian. Opportunities for women to study medicine in Montreal near the turn of the century were limited to University of Bishop's College which she attended from 1890 - 1894, graduating with brilliant honors. She would continue a life-long unshaken devotion of McGill, becoming one of its best known Professors internationally, and having a huge circle of friends. She became the first female faculty member at McGill (which at the time still did not allow women medical students).
  • After Medical School studied in Europe, particularly Vienna (with Albrecht and Kolisko), and also Zurich.
  • The First Woman to ever present to the Pathological Society of London (1900) her work with John Adami on pigmentation-cirrhosis.
  • In about 1900 she read her clinical study, "Functional Heart Murmurs", to the Montreal Medico-Chirurgical Society, leading to a unanimous resolution to include women (with Maude leading the way) in its future membership.
  • 1898: Maude was made Assistant Curator of the McGill Medical Museum with full Curatorship being assigned months later; a massive task cataloguing and organizing a collection that had been virtually neglected since the early 1800's. She originated a system of museum teaching and placed the museum demonstrations on the curriculum as a compulsory part of the pathology course. In 1907 a fire destroyed many of the museum's 2000 specimens; salvaging and replacement commenced immediately with acceptance of donations from medical departments from all over the world.
  • Her career would become inextricably linked to the first pathologist at Montreal General Hospital-Sir William Osler. Her initial meeting with Osler (1898) was marred by her finger crushed in a door, but this would lead to Osler's immediate personal interest in her. (She was extremely short-sighted and suffered a series of minor accidents mainly involving automobiles and street-cars, once caught between two street-cars and breaking some ribs). She would contribute chapters on congenital heart disease to Osler's Textbook of Medicine (the only women of Osler's 104 authors).
  • Her intense loyalty to McGill gave rise to her interest in its history, publishing "History of Medicine in the Province of Quebec"(1931). Also published on the history of nursing (Florence Nightingale); her notes and 200 slides were later purchased by the Teacher's College of Columbia.
  • Acting Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (1915-1918).
  • In 1919 she was invited to take the Chair of Pathology at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia but turned it down out of loyalty to McGill; in 1923 she was again offered the Chair, and accepted it but for only a year and with the condition that she be on leave of absence from McGill. She remained two years and elevated the Department to very high standards. But as always she returned to McGill.
  • She was kind, thoughtful, generous, outgoing, and charming but persuasive in that she always seemed to want one to do something for her - like joining the IAMM and giving papers at meetings. She worked hard and continuously without regard for meals, never refused to see a visitor and worked on several problems all at the same time. She could never say "no" to a request, and therefore, was constantly involved in not one but multiple efforts.
  • Throughout most of her life she supported and cared for an invalid sister, her only close family.
  • The old IAMM nearly died after her death and after the War, but was brought back to life by the energies of a new Secretary, a Persian by the name of Mostofi.