“Has Any Great Harm Been Done?” Canadian Women Breaking Barriers During the First World War


  • Mélanie Morin-Pelletier Canadian War Museum




This article follows the journey of Maude Blake Holton, likely the first Canadian woman sergeant, as well as 20 Canadian nurses who trained and worked as anaesthetists overseas during the First World War. These stories bring to light the significant and little-known contributions made by a group of Canadian women who broke gender and professional barriers during the war. Maude Blake Holton’s status was deemed irregular and contested by the Canadian military authorities after the war while the employment of nurse-anaesthetists was officially approved in 1918. Although emphasizing gender-based barriers, this article reveals that some of the officers and men overseas valued saving lives and standards of care over conventional gender roles. It also shows how far military leaders and government officials were willing to go to minimize the extent of these women’s contributions and to restore the status quo ante bellum.

Author Biography

Mélanie Morin-Pelletier, Canadian War Museum

Mélanie Morin-Pelletier is a historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.