Nineteenth-century Nova Scotia differed from today’s province in countless ways. One was in the field of medicine. Until Maria Louisa Angwin (1849-1898) came along to break a barrier, all doctors in the province were — and had always been — exclusively men.
Maria was born in Newfoundland and was still a child when her family moved to Nova Scotia in 1865. As a young adult, she attended the Mount Allison Wesleyan Academy then went on to the provincial Normal College in Truro, graduating as a teacher. For five years, she taught school in Dartmouth, saving as much money as she could for further studies. What Maria had in mind — a bold and remarkable ambition at the time, considering she would be the first — was to become a doctor. And sure enough, that is exactly what Maria Louisa Angwin achieved. She went to the USA and graduated in 1882 with an MD from the Women’s Medical College. From there she interned at a Boston hospital for women and children and went on for further medical studies in London, England. In 1884, she came back to Nova Scotia, making history when she was licensed as a doctor. She opened her practice in Halifax.
For more than a decade Dr. Angwin worked as a doctor in the provincial capital, serving as an inspiring example to an unknown number of girls and young women. Living in Halifax, medicine was not her only interest. She spoke in favour of women receiving the right to vote and was active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
In 1897, Maria Louisa Angwin took a break from her medical practice to undertake post-graduate studies in New York State. The following spring, while still in the USA, Maria underwent minor surgery. During recovery, complications set in, taking the life of this barrier-breaker, Nova Scotia’s first woman doctor