Dr. Jessie Boyd Scriver was one of the first women to study medicine at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1894, Jessie Boyd trained as a musician and teacher at McGill University before deciding that medicine was her calling. Both her father, an Irish-Candian supervisor in a flour mill, and her mother encourage her to pursue any career she wanted.
During World War I there was a shortage of physicians in Montreal because many had been sent off to Europe. The desperate need for trained physicians at home, and the spare places in medical schools now so many men were away in the army, provided a new opportunity for women to train for careers in medicine. To fill student vacancies McGill's medical school agreed to admit four women as "partial students," and Jessie Boyd was one of them. Apparently disgruntled male students were not pleased and picketed her house; others threw bloody organs at her in an anatomy class. But she prevailed, and in her second year she was accepted as a full-time student.
As she later recalled, the first days at medical school were awkward for women. In the pathology rooms of the Royal Victoria Hospital, she said, the seats were too tall for women and "we sat in great discomfort with feet dangling." But a kindly professor realized there was a problem, "because the next week we found broomsticks had been nailed in place as foot rests that we might sit in ladylike comfort."
When Jessie Boyd graduated from medical school in 1922, she had the second highest marks in her class. After graduation, she did postgraduate work in sickle-cell anemia at the Royal Victoria Hospital. She also trained in pediatrics at Harvard University and Children's Hospital in Boston from 1924 to 1926. She married Dr. Walter Scriver, an internist and McGill University medical school graduate, in 1924. Their son Charles was born six years later.
Although Dr. Scriver was interested in research, she knew it was very difficult for women to succeed as scientists. Instead, after she completed her studies in Boston, she returned to Montreal to work in the University Clinic, and went into pediatrics practice in 1926. She continued her practice for forty-one years, taking special interest in the study and care of premature infants. Her son remembers, "The whole idea of having medicine directed at the health of children was almost a new idea."
Dr. Scriver became an associate professor of medicine at McGill University, was pediatrician-in-chief at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and physician at the Montreal Children's Hospital. She served as president of the Canadian Pediatric Society in 1952 and was a fellow of both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her career flourished until 1967, when she retired to care for her ailing husband. She retained a faculty post at McGill University until she died in 2000 at the age of 105.
During her career, Dr. Scriver was most often known as "Dr. Jessie." As her son recalled at her memorial service, "It is as Dr. Jessie the pediatrician that she touched most people. She made house calls in far-flung districts of Montreal. She was available by phone day, night, and weekends. She listened well, judged risk accurately, and acted decisively. Treatment instructions were always written out in her bold hand writing. She sent out modest bills herself, and there was never an appeal to a collection agency. It was a style of practice that formed bonds between patient and doctor. When she received her honorary doctor of science degree there were two receiving lines after the convocation: one leading to the principal of McGill University; the other leading to Dr. Jessie. Hers contained the graduates and their parents who were her former patients."