Tuesday, August 24, 2010

August 2010 meeting - Part IIa - Dr. Retta Kilbourn

The August meeting moved to the north gallery of the Meaford Hall, where Marjorie Davison and Jean Grummett presented an outstanding three-part illustrated presentation on eminent women of Meaford's past.  The team of Davison and Grummett worked together. Davison did the research, writing and narration while Grummett provided the technical skills that created a vibrant presentation complete with background music.

Eminent Woman #1 was Dr. Retta Kilborn (nee Gifford), born in St. Vincent Township in 1864. After graduating from the Women’s Medical College of Trinity University, Toronto in 1891, she practiced medicine in Owen Sound for two years. She was the first woman, medical missionary to go to West China for the Women’s Missionary Society of the Methodist Church.

It was during her trip to Chengtu that she met her future husband, Dr. Omar Kilbourn, whose first wife had died of cholera after arriving in China a few month’s earlier. Retta’s story was one of commitment to the health and well-being of the Chinese people she grew to love.  It was a story of having to flee for safety more than once, being smuggled to safety and being protected by the viceroy of the province, although his orders were to kill all white missionaries during the Boxer uprising, and being dumped into a river enroute to Chengtu.

Dr. Retta Kilbourn was instrumental in helping to organize the Anti-Footbinding Association that worked to educate and unbind women’s feet. Retta and her husband established and ran a hospital that also had a training school for nurses. It eventually became a 90-bed institution that is still growing and operating today. She and her fellow missionaries campaigned to get Chinese woman admitted as medical students at the West China Union University, where she taught for several years: Therapeutics, Anesthesia and Diseases of Children. 

It was a pleasure to have Marion Walker, a great-granddaughter of Dr. Kilbourn, and her husband, Ken  in attendance.

Jean Grummett, Ken Walker, Marjorie Davison and Marion Walker at Meaford Hall August 2010
If you are interested in reading more about the work and family of Dr. Retta Kilborn and her husband Dr. Omar Kilborn, an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, August 26, 1967, volume 97, "Men and Books: The Kilborn Family" is available online.

Photo by Paula Niall and review from notes by Paula Niall.

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