Look Back at the Past: Dr. Marion Hilliard (1902 – 1958), hero of women in Dundas County

Dr. Marion Hilliard

Dr. Marion Hilliard was born and raised in Dundas County, but her impact was felt nationwide.

In fact, she impacted the lives of women throughout the world. And yet, not that many people are aware of her or her place in Dundas County history.

As one of the first female gynecologists to be licensed in Canada, she earned her place in our history books. She was part of the team that developed clinical testing for women’s cancers. She also helped to promote women’s health initiatives through her clinic in Toronto and her series of articles for women (and men) published in Chatelaine Magazine between 1954 and 1957. She certainly paved the way for women’s health.

In these articles she wrote about topics that were simply not discussed in polite society at the time. They embraced topics such as female sexuality, menopause, postpartum depression and parental fatigue. She was early to point out that a medical doctor’s role was to be a sociologist as many ailments are rooted not in the physical but in mental and emotional causes.

Her articles in popular press were important as she realized how little most women knew at the time about their own health. Her articles were then combined into several books and translated into many languages and available worldwide.

Dr. Marion Hilliard also played a role in the development of the PAP test, to detect cervical cancer. The procedure was first developed by George Papanicolaou in the 1920s, but Hilliard and a team of other doctors developed a more simplified form of the test in 1947. It was for this accomplishment that in 2018 she was nominated to appear on the new $10 bill, but Viola Desmond was selected instead.

She was also extraordinarily successful in her drive to make the Women’s College Hospital an accredited teaching hospital under the University of Toronto Medical School. She eventually became the head of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department in 1947, a position she held until retiring in 1957.
Unfortunately, she did not enjoy a long retirement as she died of cancer in 1958. She was buried in her hometown of Morrisburg.

It is my hope that people will remember Dr. Marion Hilliard for her selfless dedication to women’s health. It was a personal goal of mine to nominate her to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. Their mission is to honour medical heroes – those of the past, present and future. In their description, a medical hero is one whose work has advanced health and inspires the pursuit of careers in health sciences. That certainly describes Dr. Marion Hilliard.

However, she was not one of the people selected for this honour. Dr. Marion Hilliard is my hero and the hero to the women of Dundas County and those who have loved them.

Written by Susan Peters
Dundas County Archives

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