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WRIGHT, ADAM HENRY, educator, physician, and office holder; b. 6 April 1846 in Brampton, Upper Canada, son of Henry Wright and Sarah Jane Webb; m. 6 Jan. 1874 Flora Mary Anne Cumming in Trenton, Ont., and they had two sons and three daughters; d. 20 Aug. 1930 in Toronto.

Educated in private schools as a boy, Adam Wright began his long association with the University of Toronto when he attended University College in the 1860s. He was active in athletics, especially football, cricket, tennis, and hockey, and was involved as well in the militia. A lieutenant in the university company of the Queen’s Own Rifles, he participated in the action at Ridgeway against the Fenian raiders [see Alfred Booker*]. Upon graduation (ba 1866), he spent a number of years teaching high school in Trenton, where he also joined the local artillery battery.

Wright subsequently enrolled at the Toronto School of Medicine. The University of Toronto, which did not offer instruction in medicine at this time, acted only as an examining body, and in 1873 Wright received his mb. He was practising in Colborne – his mother’s home town in Northumberland County – when he married in 1874. With an eye to further qualification, he sailed for London, where he took a diploma course and in 1877 was made a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

After his return to Toronto, Wright, partly out of economic necessity, entered various sectors of the medical profession. He joined the staff of the Toronto School of Medicine in 1879, became an editor of the Canadian Journal of Medical Science at about the same time (and later of its successor, the Canadian Practitioner), was a surgeon at the Toronto General Hospital, and lectured on obstetrics from 1883 to 1886 at Woman’s Medical College, of which he was also a director [see Emily Howard Jennings*]. First elected as a senator of the University of Toronto in 1885, he joined its re-established faculty of medicine [see William Thomas Aikins*] as professor of obstetrics in 1887; the following year he earned his md.

During the time in the 1890s that Wright was an attending physician at the Burnside Lying-In Hospital, which was part of the TGH, conditions at this maternity hospital improved; the introduction of aseptic procedures during births, for instance, led to a decline in deaths. Though generally conventional in his obstetrical views and practices, Wright did help to advance obstetrics as a distinct field. His own rising status was evident in his election as president of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (1890), the Toronto Clinical Society (1897), the Ontario Medical Association (1900), and the Canadian Medical Association (1909). At the University of Toronto he succeeded Uzziel Ogden* in the chair of obstetrics in 1903 and a year later published his Text-book of obstetrics (Toronto).

Politically, from 1905 Wright supported the Conservative administration in Ontario of James Pliny Whitney* because of its progressive policies on public health, hospitals, and reformatories. In January 1911 he was made chairman of the Provincial Board of Health. During his tenure, numerous reforms, many initiated by board secretary Dr John William Scott McCullough*, were instituted to improve the administrative structures of public health in Ontario. Among them was a series of amendments to the Public Health Act, especially those in 1912 that strengthened the authority and independence of local medical officers of health. In 1913 the board undertook, for the International Joint Commission [see Sir George Christie Gibbons*], an exhaustive examination of water quality along the Ontarian-American boundary. Of considerable importance too, in controlling disease, was the board’s approval in 1914 of McCullough’s plan to distribute diphtheria antitoxin at low cost, which led to a system of free distribution two years later.

In 1924, at the age of 78, Wright stepped down as chair when the board was disbanded on the formation of the provincial Department of Health. In retirement he continued his recreational interests – golf, fishing, lawn bowling, and curling – pursuits that reflected the athleticism of his student days. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and the Granite Club, of which he had been president in 1891. An Anglican, Wright died in 1930 and was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He had been followed into medicine by his elder son, Arthur Baldwin.

Paul Adolphus Bator

In addition to his textbook, Adam Henry Wright’s publications include “Health matters in Ontario” and “Preventive medicine and the family,” in Public Health Journal (Toronto), 4 (1913): 354–57 and 648–52, respectively; “Medical fees,” “Work, fatigue and rest,” and “A former epidemic of smallpox in Toronto,” in Canadian Practitioner and Medical Rev. (Toronto), 41 (1916): 63–65, 42 (1917): 231–36, and 45 (1920): 40–41, respectively; a tribute to former provincial secretary William John Hanna* in Public Health Journal, 10 (1919): 270–73; and “The medical schools of Toronto,” Canadian Medical Assoc., Journal (Toronto), 18 (January–June 1928): 616–20.

AO, RG 80-5-0-42, no.3540. Univ. of Toronto Arch., A73-0026/527(17). Canadian Medical Assoc., Journal, 23 (July–December 1930): 725–26. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Wendy Mitchinson, The nature of their bodies: women and their doctors in Victorian Canada (Toronto, 1991). Who's who and why, 1921

General Bibliography

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Paul Adolphus Bator, “WRIGHT, ADAM HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 2, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wright_adam_henry_15E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wright_adam_henry_15E.html
Author of Article: Paul Adolphus Bator
Title of Article: WRIGHT, ADAM HENRY
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 2005
Year of revision: 2005
Access Date: August 2, 2014