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By examining the written accounts of early missionary and pioneer wives, we see that it was common for women to perform medical services in communities before the advent of hospitals and trained professionals. For instance, in a speech given by Annie McDougall, the sister-in-law of the Methodist missionary John McDougall, she describes how many Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals would come to the missionary and pioneer women for medical help. She states:


There were no doctors or nurses within miles and miles of us. In childbirth we did what we could for one another. An Indian while traveling with us on one of our trading trips gave birth to a child on the road. Another woman in a fall from a horse had her hip badly bruised. Then a large abscess set in and filled with maggots. My only resource was a carbolic wash. I cleaned the wound with this several times and it began to heal…I once set the broken bone of an Indian girl, also the leg of the son of George Murdoch, the first major of Calgary. My husband and I pulled teeth and gave medical service to the Indians and the few whites around to the best of our ability. 1


These services became particularly important during the smallpox epidemic, which inflicted thousand of Aboriginals and some white settlers. Aboriginals would often flock into the mission sites looking for aid. John McDougall, in his book In the Days of the Red River Rebellion, describes how his mother worked "heroically" to nurse the incoming sick. 2

 

As evident in many local histories of Alberta communities, pioneer women were notorious for their home remedies. One woman, Mrs. Robert Hargreaves, from the Little Gap district had a remedy for almost every ailment:

"For burns: turpentine or grated raw potatoes. For lice: coal oil, sulfur and lard. For colds: half a teaspoon of ginger tea to one cup of hot water. For diarrhea: a drop of laudanum in thin flour and water paste…" 3
Obviously, many of these remedies were not the most pleasant or comfortable. However, in the absence of other means, women put together what little resources they had to creating treatments for all ills.
 

Sources:

  • Byfield, Ted.  Ed. Alberta in the 20th Century.  Vol. 2.  Edmonton: United Western Communications, 1992.
     

  • McDougall, Annie.  "Pioneer Life in the 1870s."  Alberta History 1998 46(3): 25-27.
     

  • McDougall, John.  In the Days of the Red River Rebellion.  Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1983.
     

  • Silverman, Elaine Leslau.  The Last Best West.  Montreal: Eden Press, 1984.

 

 

  
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