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STRUTHERS, WILLIAM EUGENE, physician, civil servant, and army officer; b. 17 Nov. 1869 in Kincardine, Ont., fifth child of John Struthers and Anna Christina McLeod; m. first 30 June 1903 Jennie Bennett Brown in Toronto, and they had a son and a daughter; m. there secondly 9 July 1913 Lina Lavanche Rogers*; d. there 20 April 1928.

William Eugene Struthers’s Scottish-born father had immigrated to Cape Breton in 1847 and married an islander. In 1855 the family relocated to Bayfield, on Lake Huron south of Kincardine. John Struthers appears to have prospered: in the 1870s he owned a woollen factory in Bayfield. After attending local schools and Goderich collegiate, William secured medical degrees in 1897 from Trinity College (md, cm) and the University of Toronto (mb). He completed his medical studies in Europe, and for a time in 1901–5 he practised in Lanark, in eastern Ontario. His academic ambition was strong enough to encourage him to take ba degrees in 1904 at both Queen’s College in Kingston and Trinity (ad eundem).

In late 1905 Struthers moved to Toronto, where he and Jennie settled at 558 Bathurst Street. Tragically his wife died in 1909 and in 1916 their son would succumb to lockjaw, contracted after he cut his finger while gathering eggs at his uncle’s Bayfield farm. In 1910 Toronto’s Board of Education instigated medical inspections in schools under the direction of its reformist chief inspector, James Laughlin Hughes*. The overseers of this innovative program, Dr William Belfry Hendry and Dr Helen MacMurchy*, soon resigned over a dispute with Hughes concerning the board’s jurisdiction in public health matters. Struthers succeeded them as chief medical inspector in January 1911, thus launching his career in the period’s burgeoning public health movement. He immediately took charge of 18 inspectors, 25 nurses, and a dental inspector [see John Gennings Curtis Adams].

Struthers’s appointment also ushered in a new phase in his private life: he met Lina Rogers, the superintendent of the nurses. She had pioneered acclaimed systems of school nursing in New York City and Pueblo, Colo., and in 1910 had accepted an invitation from John Ross Robertson*, chair of the Hospital for Sick Children, to replicate her efforts in Toronto. Because of her professional relationship to Struthers and wider notions about the impropriety of married women’s employment, she resigned on 30 June 1913 to become his wife. The wedding, at High Park Presbyterian Church on 9 July, reportedly caused a sensation since Rogers was “one of the best-known nurses on the continent.” The couple shared a commitment to health education and inspection in schools – William Struthers was an early proponent of teaching sex hygiene – and they gave public addresses and published articles in such journals as Canadian Nurse and Hospital Review, which Rogers edited for a time, and Public Health Journal.

After moving into Struthers’s home on Bathurst Street, the newly-weds joined College Street Presbyterian Church. Struthers was prominent in local masonic circles, as a member and sometime master of St Andrew’s Lodge, and he belonged to the Oddfellows. Shortly after the beginning of World War I in August 1914, he joined the militia’s medical services. In March 1916 he enlisted as a captain in the Canadian Army Medical Corps; he served overseas in 1917–18. While her husband was in the army, Lina boldly opposed the move in 1916 to transfer the school board’s medical work to the city’s health department and her comprehensive text, The school nurse, was published in New York the following year.

In May 1914 the government of Sir James Pliny Whitney* in Ontario had passed the workmen’s compensation act, the first Canadian legislation premised on the understanding that recompense for injury should not be contingent on the worker’s responsibility. On 14 December, Struthers was appointed first chief medical officer of the Workmen’s Compensation Board. Although this position appears to have required less involvement than his work with the school board, he continued to uphold the critical importance of health education and stressed its value to both the worker and the employer in the prevention of accidents and illness. He would remain in the post until his death at Wellesley Hospital in 1928 from “internal troubles” and influenza. A funeral service at his home was followed by a masonic burial in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The Toronto Daily Star noted that “the doctor was held in such high esteem” that Mrs Struthers’s request for no floral tributes went unheeded.

Although overshadowed professionally by his second wife, Struthers had been a pioneering figure in the public health and welfare agencies of early-20th-century Ontario. Under his direction, the medical inspection program of the Board of Education came to be one of the world’s most comprehensive, serving 45,000 children within a year of his appointment, and most widely imitated. Similarly, the Workman’s Compensation Board served as a prototype for other such agencies throughout North America [see James Leonard Sugrue]. Struthers’s appointments to these agencies signified a key role for health-care professionals in the evolving modern state.

Cynthia Comacchio

William Eugene Struthers is the author of “Medical inspection of schools in Toronto,” Public Health Journal (Toronto), 5 (1914): 67–78.

AO, RG 80-5-0-309, no.2372; RG 80-8-0-362, no.6035. LAC, RG 31, C1, 1901, Lanark (village), Ont.: 8 (mfm. at AO); RG 150, Acc. 1992–93/166, box 9392-16. Mount Pleasant Cemetery (Toronto), Tombstone inscription. QUA, Dept. of alumni affairs fonds; Registrar’s Office fonds, student registers (mfm.). Toronto Dist. School Board, Museum and Arch. Dept., Toronto Board of Education, Hist. Coll., Board minutes, January 1911, June 1913; Management committee, minute-book, 14 April 1910; Vert. files, biog., L. L. Rogers; W. E. Struthers. UTA, A1973-0026/452(63, 67). Globe, 1 July 1903, 21 April 1928. Toronto Daily Star, 9, 16 Dec. 1905; 9 July, 4 Oct. 1913; 24 March 1914; 11 Aug. 1916; 20, 23 April 1928; 11 June 1946. Canadian annual rev., 1914–16, 1927–28. Dianne Dodd, “Helen MacMurchy, md: gender and professional conflict in the medical inspection of Toronto schools, 1910–1911,” OH, 93 (2001): 127–49. Heather MacDougall, Activists and advocates: Toronto’s health department, 1883–1983 (Toronto, 1990). Ont., Workmen’s Compensation Board, Annual report, 1914–29. Ontario medical register (Toronto), 1901. L. [L.] Rogers Struthers, “Nursing side of medical inspection of schools,” Public Health Journal, 4 (1913): 147–48. James Struthers, The limits of affluence: welfare in Ontario, 1920–1970 (Toronto, 1994). Neil Sutherland, Children in English-Canadian society: framing the twentieth-century consensus (Toronto, 1976). Toronto Board of Education, Annual report, 1911, 1912 (“Medical inspector’s reports”).

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Cite This Article

Cynthia Comacchio, “STRUTHERS, WILLIAM EUGENE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/struthers_william_eugene_15E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/struthers_william_eugene_15E.html
Author of Article:   Cynthia Comacchio
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   September 28, 2023