Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

The Remarkable Life of Dr. Elizabeth McMaster

Published: 5/4/2023 4:00:00 PM

Dr. McMaster.jpg

Dr. Elizabeth McMaster – 12 January 1956. Stratford Herald newspaper article as part of the UniondaleWomen’s Institute Tweedsmuir Vol. 2., COA120 Uniondale Women’s Institute fonds.

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

Many would recognize Norwich Township born Elizabeth Stowe, and her contributions to medical history and the rights of women. However, Oxford County is home to another early female doctor who forged a long and successful career as a missionary doctor overseas: Elizabeth McMaster.

Dr. Elizabeth McMaster was born October 9, 1871 on the McMaster homestead located on Lot 33, 8th Concession of East Nissouri Township. Her father, Fergus McMaster, came from Scotland and was a clerk in the T. Eaton store in St. Marys before he purchased his farm and returned to Scotland to find his bride, Mary Smith. Staunch Presbyterians, Mr. McMaster was an elder for many years at the First Presbyterian Church in St. Marys. He also served as a trustee for S.S. No. 4 East Nissouri (Uniondale) for twenty-one years.

0727ph Fergus McMaster - St Marys Museum & Archives.jpg

Kirk Session from theSt. Marys First Presbyterian Church, including Fergus McMaster . – 1908."Kirk Session, 1908." St. Marys Museum, 0727ph. 

pg. 116 S.S. No. 4 East Nissouri, Uniondale - before 1941.jpg

S.S. No. 4 EastNissouri, Uniondale – [before 1941]. Uniondale Women’s Institute TweedsmuirVol. 2., COA120 Uniondale Women’s Institute fonds.

One of six children, Elizabeth attended Uniondale School, St. Marys Collegiate, and the Stratford Model School, before attending the Toronto Normal School. Upon completion of her schooling, she taught  for seven years in classrooms around Ontario, including the Harrington Public School, before deciding to go back to school to obtain her medical degree. She attended Trinity College, University of Toronto*, and graduated n 1902 with M.D. and C.M. degrees.

For over a year she was an intern in the West Philadelphia Hospital**, at the end of which she was appointed a medical missionary for the Presbyterian Church at Indore, Central India. Later, this mission assignment was operated by the United Church of Canada. During her time overseas, she not only tended to the ill at the hospital where she was stationed, but also taught successive classes to Indian nurses, pharmacists, and midwives, and championed the welfare of women throughout the country.

West Philadelphia Hospital for Women 1915 UArchivesDigitalImageCollection.jpg

West Philadelphia Hospital for Women. – 1915 courtesy of The University of Pennsylvania Archives:  https://collaborativehistory.gse.upenn.edu/media/west-philadelphia-hospital-women  

On three separate occasions, the Government of India honoured her for her work, including being awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind silver medal*** in 1926, and the King George V Jubilee medal in 1935. She was also listed in the Government of India honours list for public service throughout the years.

Passengers list - Bombay to California - 1943 .jpg

List or manifest ofinbound passengers on S.S. Hermitage sailing from Bombay, India to San Pedro,California – 1943. "California, Los Angeles Passenger Lists,1907-1948," database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KZQD-623 : 13 March 2018), ElizabethMcmaster, 1943; citing Immigration, ship name Hermitage, NARA microfilmpublication M1764 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and RecordsAdministration, n.d.), roll 111; FHL microfilm 1,734,715.

During each furlough Dr. McMaster spent in the forty years she served in India, she attended short courses in New York, Dublin, and London, England, where she learned the latest in medical practices and procedures.

In 1943, at the age of seventy-two, she retired from the medical field and returned to Canada where she settled in St. Marys, Ontario. On January 10, 1956, Dr. Elizabeth McMaster passed away at the Stratford Hospital after falling and breaking her hip a few hours earlier. She was eighty-four years old at the time of her death. Following a service in Stratford at L.A. Ball Chapel, she was buried at St. Marys Cemetery.


* In 1865, Stowe applied to study medicine at the University of Toronto but was denied entry because she was a woman. Unable to pursue her education in Canada, she attended the New York Medical College for Women. After graduating in 1867, Stowe returned to Toronto to practice medicine without a license. In 1870 was she allowed to attend the University of Toronto and was granted a medical license in 1880. It’s thanks to her efforts that female doctors, such as Dr. Elizabeth McMaster, were able to study medicine and receive their degrees.

** The West Philadelphia Hospital was established in 1888 by women for the treatment of women, and specialized in maternity cases and obstetrics. The Hospital was incorporated into the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. 

***The Kaisar-i-Hind Medal for Public Service in India was a medal awarded by the Emperor/Empress of India between 1900 and 1947 to "any person without distinction of race, occupation, position, or sex...who shall have distinguished himself (or herself) by important and useful service in the advancement of the public interest in British Raj.”