I first became aware of Gwendolyn Mulock, St. Catharines’ first female doctor, during preparation for the Museum’s 2014 Guided Spirit Walk program at Victoria Lawn Cemetery. Gwendolyn and her mother, Bessie (a well-known member of the local Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire) are both buried in Victoria Lawn and were featured in our Spirit Walk production that year.
When I began researching local women to include in our “Leading the Way: Pioneering Women of St. Catharines” exhibit, I was sure I wanted to include Gwendolyn. I headed down to our archives, excited to learn about Gwen’s rather remarkable life – only to find that our library had only very basic biographical details and no photographs. I was disappointed, but can’t say wholly surprised – I’ve encountered similar challenges researching historical female figures before. Gwendolyn was born before women had the right to vote in Canada and graduated medical school before women were legally considered to be “persons” in our country. Given the social and political attitudes towards women in the first part of the 20th century, their underrepresentation in the historical record, while frustrating, isn’t shocking.
Determined to do my small part to right this historical wrong and uncover what I could about Gwendolyn’s life, I expanded my archival search to Toronto, where she had gone to school and later established a medical practice. It was in the University of Toronto archives that we found the photo of Gwen featured in this post; it’s excerpted from a group photo of the University of Toronto Medical Basketball and Tennis teams, 1924-5 (below).
Gwendolyn Mulock graduated with a medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1927. Following the death of her father, Dr. J.M. Mulock, she took over his medical practice in St. Catharines. While I didn’t come across a great deal of information about her life here, it seems as though Gwen followed in her mother’s footsteps and involved herself in our community; she was a member of the first board of directors for the St. Catharines YWCA, founded in 1928. Her obituary in the Globe and Mail noted that she pursued post-graduate work in London sometime between her graduation in 1927 and her return to Toronto to establish a medical practice of her own in 1934.
Gwendolyn’s career in Toronto saw her become Director of Women’s Health Services at the University of Toronto, serve as a member of the medical staff at Women’s College Hospital and act as a medical consultant for the Toronto Children’s Aid Society. Child health and social services were areas of focus for Dr. Mulock; she wrote a number of articles on the subject for Canadian periodicals and even spoke about these subjects on the radio. She was a member of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church and quite involved in church activities: she was a member of the Diocesan Council for Social Service, an organizer of the Canadian Malvern Conference in 1943 and a collaborator on the Church’s well-known annual production of “The Easter Story”.
Dr. Mulock died following a long illness in 1950 and is buried at Victoria Lawn Cemetery. She was survived by her mother Bessie (who died in 1952) and her brother, Herber Mulock. The University of Toronto’s School of Social Work offers a scholarship, named in honour of Gwendolyn, to graduate students interested in the area of medial social work – the “Dr. Gwen Mulock Award”.
While my research didn’t turn up as much information as I’d hoped, I feel like I at least have a window into the life and work of St. Catharines’ first female doctor. The Museum would appreciate any additional information about Gwendolyn Mulock – please contact us if you have something to share!
To learn more about Gwendolyn Mulock and other pioneering women of St. Catharines, visit our Leading the Way exhibit, on display at the Museum through December, 2016.
Meredith Leonard is the Visitor Services Coordinator at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.