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Family Background

Minnie Gomery was born in Birmingham, England on 15 July 1875. She was the third child of Henry Gumery (he changed the spelling to Gomery just prior to emigrating to Canada) and his wife Sarah Smith. Henry (1843-1925) was the only child of Edward Gumery, a carpenter and joiner from Worcester, England and his wife Mary Hughlings. Leaving school aged thirteen, Henry went to work for his father, learning the carpentry trade. At the age of sixteen, while working on the construction of the Worcester to Hereford railway extension he injured his foot and became unable to continue with carpentry. He opened a book shop in Worcester and ran this for a time, before taking up employment with Brassie and Ballard, railway and general contractors in Worcester as a timekeeper, later as an office clerk. At the time of his marriage to Sarah Smith in 1867, he was working at an engine works in Glasgow, Scotland owned by Brassie and Ballard, as a timekeeper. While living in Glasgow he attended college at nights, after work, for two years.

Henry returned to Worcester to marry Sarah in the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel in Birdport Street. The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion was a sect closely connected with the Methodist denomination. The Countess appointed one of the founders of Methodism, George Whitfield, as her chaplain. Her name was given to Whitfield's followers.

Henry and Sarah had a family of six children:-

  • Eleanor Mary born 30 March 1869 in Worcester
  • Walter Hughlings born 27 July 1871 in Birmingham
  • Minnie born 15 July 1875 in Birmingham
  • Bertram Valentine born 14 February 1879 in Birmingham
  • Percy born 19 February 1881 in Birmingham
  • Roland born 4 August 1883 in Nottingham

Henry was employed as a clerk at Piggott & Co., an iron foundry in Birmingham for 12 years (in the 1881 census this position is recorded as an Engineer's Cost Clerk), before moving to Nottingham where he was a lay reader at St Peter's, Old Radford with a stipend of 100 per annum.

Emigration to Canada

In December 1883 Henry, together with his eldest son, Walter, emigrated to Quebec province in Canada - the rest of the family followed in 1884. In 1884 Henry was ordained a Deacon in the Anglican church, then in 1885 was ordained a Priest by the Bishop of Montreal. From 1884-85 he was the incumbent of the parish of Onslow, in Quyon, Pontiac county; then rector of St John's in Huntingdon, south of Montreal from 1885 until 1892. He acted as Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society from 1892-98 in Montreal; then was the Canadian agent for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1898-1900, before being appointed Rector of the Church of the Redeemer St Paul, in Montreal from 1901-06.

Sarah, Henry's wife, died in March 1915. He survived her by ten years dying in April 1925 at Campbell's Bay, Litchfield, Ontario aged 82 years.

Minnie's Education

Minnie Gomery was nine years of age when her family moved from England to Quebec province in Canada. While the family lived in Huntingdon, Minnie attended the Huntingdon Academy. In 1892 they moved to Montreal, and about this time Minnie decided she wanted to be a medical missionary for the Anglican Church. In the autumn of 1894 she applied for admission to Bishop's University and was enrolled as a medical undergraduate student. It was only a few years earlier, in 1890, that Bishop's Medical School had made the decision to allow women to study medicine - an unusual decision at the time.

In his obituary of Minnie Gomery, written for the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1967, E.H. Bensley, head of the Faculty of Medicine at McGill university, had the following to say about Minnie's successful academic record:-

The records of Bishop's Medical School show that she was a superior student. At the close of her first academic session in 1895 she won two prizes, one in botany, the other in practical anatomy. The following year she was awarded the David Silver Medal, for the highest marks in the primary examinations, and the Senior Dissector's Prize. She graduated in 1898, receiving the degree of M.D., C.M. from Bishop's University and the Wood Gold Medal; this medal was the senior medical undergraduate award given annually to the graduating student who had attained the highest aggregate number of marks in all subjects.

Discrimination Against Women

Hers was an academic record of which to be proud. Having done the academic study, the practical study of medicine now needed to be attended to - but this was not so easy for a woman in 1898. Dr. Gomery was one of a very small number of female medical graduates in Canada, in the nineteenth century, and she found that many hospitals would not admit women as medical students. The only hospitals in the Montreal area who would accept women medical graduates were the Western Hospital and the Women's Hospital, a restriction which would limit her clinical training. As a female she was not permitted to perform surgery, and could gain no practical experience in this area. She recalled one of her professors saying that this didn't matter, as she would never be asked to perform an operation. He was to be proven wrong.

After graduation, Dr. Gomery applied to the Western Hospital for a position as house surgeon - her application was turned down for the reason that a woman could not be appointed to such a position. Deciding that Canada had little to offer her professionally, Minnie returned to her original idea to be a medical missionary for the Anglican Church.

Church Missionary Society

Minnie returned to England to spend 18 months studying theology and undertake further medical training at the Church Missionary Society College in Islington, London.

The Church Missionary Society was founded in 1799 with clear, radical (for the time) goals:-

  • to build missions for "the heathen"
  • to oppose slavery
  • to defeat the East India company's opposition to missionary work on the Indian sub-continent
  • to see the renewal of the Church of England

They worked towards these goals according to the principles advised by John Venn:-

  • Follow God's leading and look for success only from the Spirit.
  • Send out people of the highest possible calibre.
  • Be prepared to begin on a small scale.
  • Don't get hung-up on fundraising: money will follow effective work.

A Medical Missionary in Kashmir

In 1900 the Church Missionary Society sent Dr. Minnie Gomery to Kashmir, where she was to work for almost 50 years. For most of this time, from 1902 to 1935, she was at the John Bishop Memorial Hospital in Anantnag, Kashmir, often as the sole physician and surgeon on the staff. In 1935 at the age of sixty she retired and returned to Montreal to live. The following year she returned to Kashmir as a volunteer, and continued to work as a medical missionary for another 12 years before retiring and returning to Montreal to live. She remained in Montreal for a number of years then returned to Kashmir as a superintendent and teacher at a girl's school. Finally in 1953, aged 78 years, Minnie retired for the last time and returned to Montreal to spend her remaining years with her friends and family, living with her youngest brother Roland and his wife until her death. It is always difficult to get a sense of the real person, but Minnie was described as a shy, gentle and modest woman, whom people treated with respect. Except for her family and close friends, few people realised the story behind the person.

Bensley ends his obituary by saying:-

She repeatedly expressed regret that old age and illness had so greatly reduced her usefulness. When her friends told her that surely she had done enough and now deserved a rest , she would reply that no one has ever done enough. She wished to serve, not to rest. Her entire life was a shining example of dedicated Christian service. The medical profession of Canada has reason to be proud of Dr. Minnie Gomery.

During her time in Kashmir it would have been necessary for Minnie to be fluent in the Kashmiri language. She must have learnt it with great success as the Church Missionary Society archive has copies of her translations of song and verse into Kashmiri. They also have letters from her written between 1899 and 1932, and articles she wrote for the society journal, Mercy and Truth.

Dr. Minnie Gomery died on 8 March 1967 in the Church Home in Montreal, in her 92nd year.

If you would like to know more about this family please email me .

I would like to thank the Canadian Gomery family for all their help, and for generously sharing their family knowledge with me
Ancestral Trails, by Mark Herber, 1997
Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1925
Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1967, vol.96, page 1294; Obituary - Dr Minnie Gomery, by E.H. Bensley
Church Mission Society website
Last revised: 15 January 2004
Linda Hansen 2001-2006