New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Elizabeth (Smith) Secord; First Registered Woman Doctor in N.B.

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From the blog at

This article was included as a pdf attachment to a previous blog post. I have now formatted it to appear as ordinary text in WordPress-fashion, to give it more visibility. The previous post is now deleted. So, …

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Elizabeth Caroline (Smith) Secord; New Brunswick’s First Registered Woman Doctor

  1. Elizabeth was a great hearted woman with an indomitable spirit and a vigorous constitution. Strong principles had allowed her to maintain the courage of her convictions in the face of strong opposition. She resisted life’s difficulties to the end, and commanded the respect of others. She was also a lifelong and earnest Christian worker. So said the writer of her obituary.
  2. There are other indications of what sort of woman she was. She travelled without a male escort to the American mid-west to study for a male-dominated profession, for example. She then worked and studied in Ireland and England. Upon her return to New Brunswick she was active in the temperance movement and aroused controversy by trying to get a certain barkeeper arrested. At the age of 67 she was still strong enough to take on the care of two British home-children.
  3. In balance, we can imagine Elizabeth as determined and unyielding. She was stubborn. When Elizabeth decided upon a course of action, it only remained to execute her plan. She took only that advice which she found useful and never suffered from self-doubt. If it were not for these things then she would never have been as pioneering as she was.
  4. Elizabeth Caroline Smith was born in Blissville, New Brunswick on October 26, 1841, a daughter of Daniel Edward Smith and Phoebe Hartt. She completed school in Blissville and may have attended Normal School in Fredericton. She taught near Norton in Kings County before she married. She returned home to Blissville when school was out in the summer of 1861. She was twenty years of age at that time and stayed with relatives rather than with her parents. Her father died in October of that year and the household may have been in turmoil as his health failed.
  5. The present church building at Blissville was built in 1860-61, and the first funeral to take place in the new building was that of Elizabeth’s father Daniel. At the time of the funeral, the pews had not been installed and the congregation was seated on planks supported on wooden blocks.
  6. Nothing more is known of Elizabeth’s early years except that the family was devoted to the majority Free Christian Baptist faith. “Blessed seasons of worship [had] been enjoyed under her roof, when praises and prayers and hearty whole-souled shouts [had] gone up before the Lord like a cloud of holy incense.” We know that Elizabeth remained active in the church throughout her life and was also active in social causes such as the temperance movement.
  7. Elizabeth’s nephew Clarence B. Smith reported that she delivered her sister-in-law’s baby and that the child later suffered from ‘blackouts’ (epilepsy?). It is said that she determined at that time that she would like to study medicine. This was likely before she married and before she took any concrete steps toward medical training.
  8. It was while teaching in Kings County that Elizabeth met John Secord of that place. They were married in 1869 and their son Herbert was born in about 1872. John died in about 1874 when Herbert was two years old and Elizabeth was thirty-two or thirty-three. Elizabeth’s earlier thought of studying medicine then took root.
  9. Elizabeth left New Brunswick for Iowa, about seven years after John Secord died. Her son Herbert would have been about nine years old at the time, and we do not know if she took him with her on the trip. Her sister Olive was her lifelong companion but we also do not know if she travelled with Elizabeth. Travel was probably by railroad, which Elizabeth would have regarded as modern and convenient. We would not have been so impressed, and the trip was undoubtedly a strenuous undertaking.
  10. Elizabeth studied at the Medical College in Keokuk, Iowa and graduated with an MD in 1881. This college admitted women, and the alumni lists reveal that it had been in operation as far back as 1850. She studied further at the Women’s Hospital Medical College in Chicago and graduated from there in 1882.
  11. Elizabeth returned to New Brunswick in 1882 and practiced briefly in the Woodstock area with visits also to Sunbury County. She was registered as an MD in New Brunswick in June of 1883. She was New Brunswick’s first duly registered medical doctor and this was in the face of bitter opposition from the male dominated profession. In that same year she travelled to Ireland for further studies and practice.
  12. Elizabeth studied at Dublin’s Lying-In Hospital and, in 1885, was the first woman to be granted a licence in midwifery from that institution. It is said that she also worked at London hospitals during the period from 1883 to 1885, after which she returned to practice in Fredericton Junction. Her sister Olive lived with her and, of course, her son Herbert.
  13. Herbert graduated from Acadia University in 1891 and taught in Vancouver for a short time. He was in poor health and, by late 1892 was off to New Mexico to recuperate. He had not improved by March of 1893 and relocated to San Antonio, Texas. He returned to his mother’s home in Fredericton Junction and died on September 1, 1893.
  14. Elizabeth is remembered as possessing the courage of her convictions and for being a crusading physician. There was basis for this, as she was the founder and patron of the Loyal Temperance Legion in Fredericton Junction and actively opposed the use of alcohol. She tried over a lengthy period to have the proprietor of the American House Hotel, John Sheehan, jailed for illegally running a bar out of a building known as the ‘old bar’ adjacent to the hotel. This effort raised controversy and eventually failed. The local controversy, combined with the death of her son, caused her to temporarily give up the practice of medicine and to sell her house to John C. Tracy. She then moved to Norton, in Kings County, in the company of her sister in about March of 1894. Before leaving Fredericton Junction, she was presented with an address and a bible by the Loyal Temperance Legion. This was followed by a move to Farmerston, on the outskirts of Woodstock.
  15. Elizabeth wrote her will on September 26, 1899. The signature was shaky and she may already have been ill. At around that time she was living with her brother-in-law Richard Alexander in Wakefield Parish.
  16. A shipment of children arrived from Britain in 1908 aboard the SS Carthaginian. These were ‘Middlemore Children’, or British home children imported by John T. Middlemore. More than 5,000 such children were extracted from Birmingham not so much because they were poor, which they probably were, but to separate them from their ‘bad companions’. Elizabeth took two of these children and would have signed a contract requiring that they be given an education and religious training until they were sixteen years of age. These children were still with Elizabeth by the time of the 1911 census and were: Herbert Morris born March, 1895, and Elsie May Morris born May, 1897.
  17. Elizabeth died at Farmerston on July 4, 1916 of tuberculosis. She was survived by two sisters: Phoebe Hartt and Olive M. Smith; and two brothers: Daniel E. and William D. Smith. Interment was in the Baptist cemetery in Blissville. Her estate was left to her sister Olive, executrix. There was no real estate, and the value of the whole estate was not greater than $950.

 Recommendations for Further Research

These paragraphs bring together information from known sources, add a few new sources, clarify some facts and correct some errors, and itemize references so that further research may carry on more easily. They are not as detailed an account as should be possible, however, and the following recommendations for further research are therefore offered:

  1. It is understood that Enid J. MacLeod of The Federation of Medical Women of Canada was trying in 1977 to obtain a copy of Elizabeth’s diaries from the 1880’s. There is no indication that she was successful, but enquiries should be made to the Federation.
  2. The Sunbury West Historical Society has a museum at Currie House in Fredericton Junction. They have Elizabeth’s medical licence. A personal visit should be made to Currie House in search of any other information. Elizabeth’s diaries (above) might be found there.
  3. The New Brunswick Medical Society published Medicine in New Brunswick in 1977 and therefore seem to have an interest in historical matters. They may be able to elaborate on the “bitter opposition” which greeted Elizabeth’s application for a licence to practice medicine.
  4. The Carleton County HistoricalSociety may have further information about early medical practitioners from that area.
  5. It is not known whether the New Brunswick Normal School alumni lists from Elizabeth’s era are still available, or whether Elizabeth studied there.
  6. It should be determined what happened to British ‘home children’ Herbert and Elsie May Morris.

The University of Iowa advises that they have no information other than to the alumni lists of Reference 18.

Research Notes

Paragraph 1: These descriptions of Elizabeth and some of her experiences are from her obituaries: References 4 and 8.

Paragraph 4: She stayed with relatives in the summer of 1861: Reference 12.

Paragraph 6: See Reference 6 concerning religious observances at her girlhood home.

Paragraph 7: Her sister in law’s baby suffered from ‘blackouts’: Reference 2, p 78 cites correspondence with Elizabeth’s nephew Clarence B. Smith.

Paragraph 8: John Secord was from Kings County: Reference 13. Record of marriage to John Secord: Reference 10.

Paragraph 9:Iowa vs. Michigan: Refer to notes for paragraph 10. See also paragraphs 12 and 17 for references to her sister Olive.

Paragraph 10: It was reported in several of Elizabeth’s obituaries that she studied in Keokuk, Michigan: References 4, 5 and 8. Some of the later accounts repeat the error that Keokuk was in Michigan: References 1, 2 and 16. It was correctly reported in some obituaries that she studied in Keokuk, Iowa: Reference 6. Keokuk and the medical college were and are inIowa; and Elizabeth’s name is on the alumni list for that institution: Reference 18. See Reference 25 for information regarding the Women’s Hospital Medical College in Chicago.

Paragraph 11: She was registered to practice medicine in ‘early’ 1883: Reference 2, pp 70, 78. The date was in June, 1883: Reference 8. Her application for a licence to practice in New Brunswick faced “somewhat bitter opposition”: References 4 and 8. She practiced in the Woodstock area after completing her work in Keokuk and before leaving for Europe: Reference 20.

Paragraph 12: Elizabeth did postgraduate work in Europe: Reference 2, p 78. Her work in Europe was at Dublin University and in “leading London hospitals”: References 4 and 8. She was the first woman to receive a licence from Dublin’s Lying-In Hospital to practice midwifery: Reference 21. Elizabeth returned to Fredericton Jct. after completing her postgraduate work in Europe: Reference 2, p 78 cites the Saint John Globe, July 6, 1916 which was probably another publication of her obituary. “Her sister Olive lived with her”: Reference 14.

Paragraph 13: That Herbert travelled to New Mexico and Texas is from The Daily Sun of Saint John, March 4, 1893: transcribed in Reference 22 from the Daniel Johnson collection at the New Brunswick Provincial Archives. He is said to have taught in Vancouver: e-mail correspondence; privacy protected. His death notice is from the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, September 2, 1893, from the same blog and Archives collection.

Paragraph 14: The story of the dispute with a barkeeper in Fredericton Jct.: Reference 2, p 78, 79. This account indicates that Elizabeth had made ‘too many enemies’ and that this is why she relocated to Carleton County. That the death of her son also contributed to her leaving seems clear and is supported by Reference 1. That she moved to Norton in 1894 is confirmed from the Kings County Record, March 30, 1894, and from the Saint John Daily Sun, March 23, 1894: both transcribed in Reference 22 from the Daniel Johnson collection at the New Brunswick Provincial Archives. The Daily Sun notice includes the information about the presentation by the Loyal Temperance Legion. She moved to Farmerston, on the outskirts of Woodstock: Reference 2, p 78 indicates that Farmerston later became known as Jacksonville. However, Greg Campbell notes in Reference 19 that Jacksonville is about 4 miles from Woodstock, while Farmerston is about 10 miles outside Woodstock. Elizabeth’s obituary confirms that her home was in Farmerston: References 4 and 8.

Paragraph 15: Elizabeth wrote her will on September 26, 1899: Reference 9. She was living with Richard Alexander in Wakefield Parish: Reference 15.

Paragraph 16: Two Middlemore children were in Elizabeth’s care: Reference 17. Refer to Reference 24 for general information on this emigration program from England.

Paragraph 17: Details of her will and estate: Reference 9. The cause of death was tuberculosis: Reference 6.


  1. DeWitt, Katherine and Norma Alexander, Days of Old, a History of Fredericton Junction, Sunbury West Historical Society, Inc., 1987, pp 193-195.
  2. Hacker, Carlotta, The Indomitable Lady Doctors, Goodread Biographies, 1984, pp 70, 78-79.
  3. Stewart, Dr. William Benton, Medicine in New Brunswick, The New Brunswick Medical Society, Moncton, N.B., 1974, pp 18, 87, 200, 323.
  4. Obituary, First N.B. Woman Physician Dead, The Daily Gleaner, July 6, 1916, page 6; PANB Microfilm F2939.
  5. Obituary, Dr. Elizabeth C. Secord, Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, 1916, page 774; available from the National Center for Biotechnical Information at
  6. Obituary, Elizabeth C. Secord, MD, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1916, from
  7. Obituary, Phebe (Hartt) Smith (1809-1883), Religious Intelligencer, Saint John, N.B., January 11, 1884; a transcription courtesy of Carole Dick.
  8. Obituary, Doctor Elizabeth Secord Passes Away, The Carleton Observer, July 12, 1916
  9. Carleton County Probate Court Record of Dr. Elizabeth Secord, PANB, RS 62; will written in 1899 and probated in 1916.
  10. Index to Marriage Bonds 1810-1932, PANB, RS 551A: John Secord marries Elizabeth Smith, 1869.
  11. New Brunswick Census for Blissville Parish in Sunbury County, N.B., PANB, 1851.
  12. New Brunswick Census for Blissville Parish in Sunbury County, N.B., PANB, 1861.
  13. New Brunswick Census for Kings County, N.B., PANB, 1861.
  14. New Brunswick Census for Gladstone Parish in Sunbury County, N.B., PANB, 1891.
  15. New Brunswick Census for Wakefield Parish in Carleton County, N.B., PANB, 1901.
  16. Medical certificate available on-line at
  17. Middlemore Children Immigration Scheme, information at http://freepages.genealogy with data from the New Brunswick Census for Wakefield Parish in Carleton County, N.B., 1911.
  18. University of  Iowa Office of the Registrar, Records of Keokuk Medical and Dental Schools, RG 15.03, 1850-1913, Box3: Alumni, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Keokuk Medical College, 1850-1898,
  19. Campbell, Greg, e-mail dated December 23, 2010 from the L.P. Fisher Library in Woodstock, N.B.
  20. The Carleton Sentinel, Woodstock, June 10, 1882: “Elizabeth C. Secord, MD left on Wednesday for Sunbury County and will be absent about two weeks.”
  21. Shrady, George F., editor, The Medical Record, a Weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery, May 9, 1885, Google book page 521: “The first female who received a diploma from the Lying-In Hospital for the Licentiate Midwifery issued to a female practitioner, was given to Mrs. Elizabeth Caroline Secord.”
  22. York Sunbury Historical Society, Blog at
  23. Dick, Carol, Genealogical and family history web site at
  24. Encyclopedia of Chicago, Women’s Hospital Medical College, available at www.
  25. Feinberg School of Medicine at
  26. 24.  British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, Middlemore Children’s Immigration Scheme, at .htm.

Written by johnwood1946

November 4, 2011 at 3:08 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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