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Elizabeth Smith was a determined and ambitious young woman in Victorian Ontario, who set out to get a medical education against considerable opposition, and succeeded. The diaries begin when she was thirteen years old, in Winona, Ontario, and take her through the loneliness and dissatisfaction of life as a young teacher. They chronicle her battle for admission to the all-male medical school at Queen’s University, and the discrimination she met there as a woman from professors and fellow students. The diaries end as she begins her career as one of the first woman doctors to be educated in Canada.
A cautious feminist and an anxious Protestant, Elizabeth Smith was often introspective, and used her diary as a way of recording her progress and as a mirror to create within herself a more perfect example of womanhood. She was typical of her period in her concern with life as a struggle against the sins of physical indulgence and moral laxity. Yet she was no stern, pedantic bluestocking; her anxiety and idealism were balanced by her wit and vivacity. Her overcoming of the obstacles that stood between women of her time and possible careers did not harm chances for marriage and motherhood. In later life, married to Adam Shortt, she became one of the leading Canadian women of her time.
Elizabeth Smith’s diaries are a rare expression of female experience, all the more valuable as the writer is articulate, sensitive, and out-spoken. They cover a critical period in the 1870s and 1880s when Canada’s first great feminist wave was emerging in response to inequalities in education, employment, and politics and trace the development of a feminist consciousness in one outstanding individual. The passion and anger that were so much a part of this process remain alive for modern readers as they do in few other documents. The diaries will appeal to feminist and social historians as well as to those interested in Victorian life and letters.