Today, we’re looking at a story that may not be as inspiring as many that could be told. It is an important story nonetheless. This is the story of Dr. Kenneth Neander Fenwick (1852-1896), and the women from whom he sought to deprive a medical education.
Born in 1852 in Kingston, Ontario, he received a Bachelor of Arts from Queen’s University in 1871 before training with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons at Kingston and becoming house surgeon at the Kingston General Hospital in 1873. In 1876, Fenwick began working as a physiology professor at Queen’s Medical School, and in 1885 he was also made a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology. Though a brilliant and well-trained surgeon, he treated his female students, whom the university had granted admission to the medical program in 1880, quite poorly. In an 1882 lecture on the larynx, for instance Dr. Fenwick compared the pitch of women’s voices to that of an ape, which resulted in his female students marching out of his classroom.
Dr. Fenwick, alongside a group of other professors and male medical students, also argued that women’s attendance forced them to adjust their teachings to accommodate their “over-refined sensibilities.” Fenwick led a group of male students against the women and accused them of restricting their academic freedom. When the male students threatened to leave the school in droves, Queen’s University expelled the women. They were not allowed to return for 50 years, until 1943.
Although Dr. Fenwick was one of the leaders of a dark part of Queen’s University’s history, he should also be acknowledged for proposing, and largely funding the construction of an innovative surgical theatre at Kingston General Hospital, which opened in October 1895 and sat 100 medical students, facilitating their medical education. It remains Canada’s only remaining Victorian-era surgical amphitheatre.
Dr. Fenwick was only able to use his operating theatre for three months. On January 16th, 1896, a small cut on his left hand became infected while he was performing surgery without gloves. He died only days later from septicemia (blood poisoning by bacteria), leaving behind his third wife whom he had married only six months previous.
To learn more about Kingston General Hospital and the stories connected to it, check out more of our Tell Me a Story Tuesday blog posts!