Jean Dow Medicine

One of the first researchers to isolate the organism which causes Kala-azar disease

The Story

Dow earned her medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1895. Later that year, she traveled to China, where she would spend the rest of her life. Dow was a surgeon in China for over thirty years. For twenty years, she was the only woman doctor at the Canadian Presbyterian Mission in Honan. There, she did research into the organism which causes Kala-azar, a wasting disease which is prevalent in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Her work paved the way for the development of treatment for this illness, which previously had a fatality rate of 70%. Dow received a medal from the Chinese government for her service during the great famine of 1920.
Jean Isabel Dow was born in Fergus, Ontario,  in 1870. She entered high school at age ten intending to become a teacher. She began teaching at the age of fifteen. She had always harboured a wish to someday serve as a medical missionary, a wish which became a reality when she was admitted to the Toronto Medical College and, upon graduation in 1895,  left for China. In China she assisted Dr. McClure at Chuwang dispensary. Jean worked there until 1900. In 1901 she moved to Changte city were the women’s dispensary and small hospital were opened in 1918. Dow was hospital superintendent as well as sole physician until 1918. From 1902 to 1904 she was engaged in evangelical and touring work. During the famine of 1920-1921 she did wonderful work in saving the “famine babies” for which she was awarded the medal from the Chinese government. Jean furthered her medical education when on furloughs, at the School of tropical medicine in London in 1908, and later in obstetrics at a New York city hospital. For fourteen years she was the only woman physician in the Honan field. She was devoted to improving medical standards in the mission and she became a scientific researcher in the field of microbiology through her work on the dread tropical disease Kala Azar. She died in January 1927 in Beijing.
by Adele Pocci

Sources: The Indomitable Lady Doctors, Carlotta Hacker, Irwin Clarke Pub. 1974;

Looking for Jean Dow : Narratives of Women and Missionary Medicine in Modern China / Margo S. Gewurtz. In: Figuring it out : Science, Gender, and Visual Vulture / edited by Ann B. Shteir and Bernard Lightman. Hanover, N.H. : Dartmouth College Press : University Press of New England, c2006, p. 267-288.


The Person

November 30, 1869
Fergus, Ontario
Date of Death
January 1, 1927
Place of Death
Beijing, China
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Last Updated
May 23, 2011

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