Health Care and Science

From the early pioneer days health care fell within women's domain. Before the construction of hospitals and the existence of trained nurses and doctors, caring for the ill was the responsibility of women. By examining the written accounts of early missionary and pioneer wives, we see that it was common for women to have to reset bones, pull teeth, cure infections and aid in childbirth. A cult of home remedies and midwifery developed as a result of this demand on women. Using what little resources were available and making use of shared medical knowledge, some women, like midwives, even became identified as the local experts in certain health-care practices.


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Heritage Trails #440 - Alberta Hospital at Ponoka

In the late 1800’s people who needed mental treatment in the west were sent to Brandon, Manitoba. In 1911 the population of Alberta was getting large. This lead to the building of Alberta Hospital in Ponoka. Learn of the design and features of Alberta Hospital.

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The advent of women's organizations also saw women heavily involved in health-care issues. Organizations, like the Alberta Women's Institute and the United Farm Women of Alberta, held discussions on issues like reproduction and birth control and organized lectures and courses on contagious diseases, care of the sick, child care and nutrition. They also volunteered as health-care workers in times of need, such as during the World Wars and the influenza epidemic. Most importantly perhaps, they campaigned government to introduce medical professionals and state-run hospitals into municipal areas, particularly, rural ones.

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Prairie Women of Alberta
What farm women initiated. e.g. health care

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Women also became heavily involved in health care as nurses. Like teaching, nursing was one of the few career paths opened to women that offered an alternative to becoming a housewife (although many practised only for a period of time prior to getting married). Also like teaching, nursing could afford women greater independence, especially for rural women who had to leave home and move to urban centres in order to attend training centres. However, nursing was also a very demanding profession as nurses were often the first to appear on the medical frontier in rural areas.

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Heritage Trails #448 - Lacombe General Hospital

First used as a stopping point between Edmonton and Calgary, Lacombe didn’t have a hospital until after the town had been established. It took three years of fundraising and hard work to get the Lacombe General Hospital built. The hospital served the area between 1910 and 1937.

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