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Presbyterian women.

During the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th, a dramatic change in the status of women took place in Canada and in the Presbyterian Church. Until then, many routine, though valuable services performed by women were expected, often taken for granted and seldom recorded. Many Presbyterian women in a great variety of occupations have contributed significantly over the years to the life and work of the church and community.

One group was ministers' wives and daughters who served in the church and community. The minister's wife was expected to be a leader in the church, the president of various organizations, a member of the choir as well as being active in any number of other areas.

Another group was represented by Colonel Elizabeth Smellie of Fort William, Ontario. She was a Presbyterian and a graduate of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She served in the First World War, was mentioned in dispatches and received the Royal Red Cross Award. After the war, she became assistant matron-in-chief of the Canadian Army Nursing Service in Ottawa. When war broke out again in 1939, she accepted an appointment as matron-in-chief of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and helped organize the Canadian Women's Army Corps, better known as CWAC. She retired from the in 1944 with the rank of colonel. Later, she became Chief superintendent of the Victorian Order of Nurses.

Another Presbyterian woman of particular distinction was Dr. Margaret O'Hara, born in Port Elmsley, near Smiths Falls, Ontario. She was one of the first woman to graduate in medicine from Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, in 1891. She served in India for 35 years, distinguishing herself as a doctor, administrator and devout Christian.

Lady Aberdeen (Ishbel Maria Gordon), wife of the Governor General, the Earl of Aberdeen (1893-1898) and a member of St. Andrew's Church in Ottawa, was engaged for some years in caring for the sick. She had a considerable part in organizing the National Council of Women and the Victorian Order of Nurses. She realized that many ill people in their homes were unable to receive proper care.

By 1897, a mission operated by the Presbyterian Church had been established in the town of Skagway, gateway to the Yukon, as a result of the gold rush. Two volunteer nurses, Elizabeth Mitchell and Helen Bone, were sent to minister to the 1,200 miners at St. Andrew's Hospital in Atlin, British Columbia, in 1899.

Of all the women who have combined love of church with devotion to country, perhaps the best remembered is the late distinguished Senator Cairine Wilson. After her marriage to the Liberal MP for Russell, Ontario, she became involved in many aspect of public life. After her husband's death, she carried on many of his duties and gave leadership to the Victorian Order of Nurses, the YWCA and the League of Nations Society of Canada. She was called to the Senate in 1930. As chair of the Canadian National Committee on Refugees 1938-1948, she spoke out against anti-Semitism. After the war, she was a Canadian representative to the General Assembly of the United Nations. She was an active member of St. Andrew's Church in Ottawa.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada decided to ordain women elders and ministers in 1966. That same year, Joan McInnis of St. Andrew's Church, Arthur, Ontario, became the first woman elder to be ordained. The first woman minister in the Presbyterian Church, Shirley Jeffrey, was ordained in 1968 in Appin, Ontario and inducted into the pastoral charge of Englehart in Northern Ontario.
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Author:Ellis, Larry
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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