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Allisonian Firsts: Maria Louisa Angwin

A virtual exhibition celebrating the bold Allisonians who became the "firsts" in their field.

Maria Louisa Angwin

First female doctor licensed to practice in Nova Scotia, 1884

Maria Louisa Angwin was born on 21 September 1849 in Blackhead, Conception Bay, Newfoundland. She was the daughter of Rev. Thomas Angwin and Louisa Emma Gill (?-1898). Her father, a Methodist preacher, was transferred to Nova Scotia in the mid-1850s. By 1865, the family had settled permanently in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. In 1866, Angwin entered the Mount Allison Ladies’ College. She was granted a Mistress of Liberal Arts diploma three years later.

While medical schools in Canada had yet to admit women, there were several American institutions that did, including the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, but the training was expensive. Undaunted, Angwin attended Normal School in Truro, Nova Scotia, and taught in Dartmouth for five years to save for further education.

In 1879, Angwin left for the Woman’s Medical College. She earned her M.D. in 1882, interned at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, Massachusetts, and completed post-graduate training at the Royal Free Hospital in London, England. In August 1883, the Halifax Evening Mail interviewed her. Angwin was quoted as saying:

“The more I have learned the more I want to know, and the greater the field of medical science appears.” [1]

Angwin returned to Nova Scotia in 1884, becoming the first woman licensed to practice medicine in the province. Other Nova Scotian women had obtained medical degrees in the United States, but Angwin was the first to return home and seek recognition. She opened a practice in central Halifax in 1886, where she provided medical services to underprivileged women and children.

She was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and like Grace Annie Lockhart and Christine (Ross) Barker, Angwin was a staunch supporter of women’s right to higher education and the vote.

Angwin died suddenly on 25 April 1898 while travelling in the United States. She was only 48 at the time. Her practice was taken over by Dr. Jane Lambert Heartz, a fellow Mount Allison alumna who had also graduated from the Woman’s Medical College. Angwin left small bequests to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Mount Allison Ladies’ College, and the Woman’s Medical College. She is buried in the Dartmouth Common Cemetery where the Nova Scotia College of Family Physicians installed a plaque in 2004 to commemorate her achievements. [2]


[1] Quoted from Louis Kernaghan, “ANGWIN, MARIA LOUISA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003,

[2] Information also taken from Aloma Jardine's "Strength and Determination," The Mount Allison Record,