Mary Duncan (Nicholls)

            Taking inspiration from her mother, Mary Duncan sought to lead a life dedicated to helping those pushed to the margins of society.

            An early memory from the birth of her younger brother led Mary to understand that women were not considered equals in her time. This was especially true when it came to health care practices of the era—women’s health simply was not understood on as sophisticated a level as it needed to be.

Ms. Duncan tried to emulate the work her mother did. The woman had acted as something of a community doctor in Mary’s hometown, providing care for those too far away from hospitals. A mixture of compassion and dedication were integral in meeting Mary’s goal of becoming an advocate for women’s health issues, and it is more than fair to say that Mary Duncan’s professional life fit those criteria.

After graduation from the University of Western Ontario with a degree in Public Health Nursing, Mary moved quickly to make an impact for women in the London community. A collaboration with a group of women that included London’s first woman Mayor, Jane Bigelow, formed in 1971 to set up the first Women’s Centre in the city. This addition to the community allowed women access to information they previously could not attain, especially with issues related to health, such as safe abortions and other family planning education.

In order to provide this unprecedented level of a reliable support system, Mary Duncan placed her own well being in sometimes-precarious situations. The girl who grew up with the hope of mimicking the high standard set by her mother did that and much more as a grown woman. Ms. Duncan deserves a great deal of respect for the courage she showed throughout her professional life in championing the fight for gender equality. With her work, a system was finally put in place that allowed for education and, even more importantly, movement towards real social parity.

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