A. Marion Hilliard

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Marion Hilliard graduated from Victoria College (B.A., 1924) and the Faculty of Medicine (M.D, 1927) at the University of Toronto. She has been recognized for her “all-around” student achievements as she excelled in sports, extracurricular activities and her studies. She would go on to co-invent a simplified test for cervical cancer and became Chief of OB/GYN departments at Women’s College Hospital from 1947-1958 and helped to establish a Cancer Detection Clinic. Marion Hilliard died shortly after her retirement on July 15th, 1958 in Toronto.



Early Life

Anna Marion Hilliard was born on June 17th, 1902 in Piety Cottage, Morrisburg, Ontario. Marion was the middle child of five and had two brothers and two sisters (Wilson, 3). Marion’s father, Irwin Hilliard, was a lawyer and her mother, Anna, a homemaker. The Hilliard family were pious missionary-minded Methodists and highly respected in their community (Wilson, 1977, 3). Irwin Hilliard wanted his daughters to excel in their studies to become teachers. However, in Marion’s final year of high school she became interested in science. Her father reluctantly supported her pursuit of science at University with the hope that she would discover it was not for her. Marion would later become disheartened with the reality of being a medical doctor, at which time her father told her to “finish what you’ve started. Be a Doctor!” (Wilson, 1977, 14). Marion would go on to graduate as one of seven women from the Faculty of Medicine's Class of 1927. 

University of Toronto: Victoria College and Medical School, 1920-1927

In 1923 Marion was named Varsity Women’s Athlete of the Year, an unsurprising honour because she played hockey, basketball, baseball, volleyball and tennis for her college and University teams. Ice hockey was her favourite and most recognized sport earning her “star left-wing” status in the Varsity newspaper. In 1926 Marion was captain of the hockey team. Nearing the end of the season, The Varsity newspaper noted the forthcoming “loss of the team’s backbone” referring to Marion’s Class of 1927 graduation. Fittingly, Marion earned the nickname “Lady of Letters”, which referred to her Vic V’s for volleyball, hockey and tennis; and Varsity V’s in ice hockey and tennis. 

Extracurricular Activities

Outside of the classroom and off the rink, Marion was President of her sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, President of the Tennis club and members of the Medical Executive and Athletics Directorate (Varsity, Nov 6, 1924). Marion became involved with the Student Christian Movement (S.C.M.) at Victoria College in various roles until becoming president of the Women’s Branch . In 1923, Marion was invited to speak at both Smith and Wellesley Colleges on the “Canadian Student Movement”.  Marion also spoke at Victoria College’s chapel service on “SCM and You”, part of a series of guest speakers. 


In addition to Marion's sports and extra-curricular activities she was also an admirable student. Though she would have been first to admit that her studies suffered throughout the year, she always made sure to do well in her finals. (Wilson, 1977, 11). This well-balanced lifestyle earned her the runner-up recipient for the Moss Scholarship award, valued at $300 (approximately $4,000 US by today’s inflation rate). Marion's fortune changed with the chosen candidate, Mr. O’Neil, decided to pursue his calling at the St. Augustine Seminary School. Coincidentally, this change of events was a blessing for Marion as she was then named award recipient.  Visit "related gallery" images to see the newspaper clipping announcing her as the chosen candidate. 

Daffydil Night 1925

In the fall of 1924 Marion entered her first year of Medical School. During this time she lived in a boarding house off campus with her roommate, Gwendolyn Mulack, who was also a "medette". (Robinson, 1964, 84). Like Marion, "Gwen" was also athletic but she preferred writing above all to anything else. She was mainly interested in writing for the Medical School's Daffydil Night, the one-night of the year when medical students could poke fun at faculty and lecture subjects (Robinson, 1964, 85).  This would have been an exciting time for women wanting to participate in Daffydil as they were only first allowed to contribute in 1923. In 1925, the Medettes’ presented, "Memories of a Medette," with Marion playing the role of "Varsity Ace" (Shorter, 2013, 656), which was clearly written for her.

Victoria College: "Hilliard & Moody"

In Marion's first year at Victoria College she had three roommates, one of whom was Maryon Moody. The two became fast friends and were generally referred to as "Hilliard & Moody" since the shared the same first name (Wilson, 5). Soon after graduation, Maryon Moody would go on to marry Mr. Lester "Mike" B. Pearson, whom she met while attending the University of Toronto. Marion Hilliard travelled to Winnipeg in August 1925 to be Maryon's bridesmaid and later became god-mother to the Pearson's first born child, Geoffrey (Robinson, 1964, 87 & 129). Mr. Pearson of course went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1957 and become Canada's 14th Prime Minister (1963-1968).

Marion Hilliard: A household name in Canada

Marion first entered the homes of Canadians through their radios on the program called, Let's Find Out, which aired on November 13th, 1952 (Robinson, 1964, 282).  The broadcast aired a taped recording of a woman in labour. As one can expect, the CBC and WCH received an outpouring of responses from those who expressed either "high praise or scandalized disapproval" (Robinson, 1964, 282). Many of Marion's patients advocated for her realistic discussions about sex, pregnancy and marriage because no one else would talk about women's experience in such an open way. Especially not over the radio. 

Then in 1954, Marion became a household name in print with her radically informative magazine articles about womanhood for MacLean's and Good Housekeeping magazine. At first, Marion was reluctant to begin writing because she was very busy working and fundraising for the WCH. She finally gave in to a magazine publisher once he promised that writer June Callwood would help her with the writing. Coincidentally, Marion had recently delivered June's first child (Hilliard, 1957, 15). Marion went on to write several articles and became well known amongst both women and men. Marion's letters were so well received because she dispelled many common misconceptions about fatigue, sex during pregnancy and the stresses of being a single woman. Marion's article was so widely accepted that she agreed to continue writing more. Later Marion would expand on these topics in her book, A Woman Doctor Looks at Love and Life (1957). 

Women’s College Hospital, Toronto

Marion Hilliard (June 17, 1902-July 15, 1958) is most recognized for her career at Women’s College Hospital (WCH) in Toronto where she worked for over twenty-five years. While she was there Marion fostered the partnership between WCH OB/GYN departments as a teaching hospital with the University of Toronto, was instrumental in the establishment of a Cancer Detection Clinic (the first of its kind in Canada) and became co-inventor of a simplified test for cervical cancer (Shorter, 2013, 568-570). Recognized for her demonstrated leadership, Marion became Chief, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Women’s College Hospital in 1947 until her retirement in 1956. Marion was an excellent fundraiser and never missed an opportunity to showcase the hospital or accept a donation. Shortly after her retirement, Marion discovered she had an aggressive cancer.  Marion Hilliard died on July 15th, 1958 at the age of 56. 

In Honour of Marion Hilliard:

Marion Hilliard Senior Public School (Gr 7-12), Scarborough, Ontario

Marion Hilliard Award - Created to honour former Varsity T's Toronto Lady Blues player (1922-27).  The award recognizes a female ice hockey player from the Canadian Interuniversity Sports assosciation with achievement in three areas: hockey, academics and community involvement.

Varsity Blues Hall of Fame - Marion Hilliard was one of twelve orginal inductees into the Varsity Blues Hall of Fame. Anther notable orginal inductee includes Lester B. Pearson. 


Hilliard, Marion. 1957. A woman doctor looks at love and life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Hilliard, Marion. “Cervical Scrapings Test: A New Method for the Early Detection of Carcinoma of the Cervix.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 62.3 (1950): 235–238. Print.

Mendes, Kaitlynn. 2010. "Reading Chatelaine: Dr. Marion Hilliard and 1950s Women's Health Advice." Canadian Journal of Communication, 35 (4): 515-531. http://search.proquest.com/docview/926994651?accountid=14771.

Robinson, Marion O. 1964. Give my heart; the Dr. Marion Hilliard story. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Shorter, Edward. 2013. Partnership for excellence: medicine at the University of Toronto and academic hospitals. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Wilson, Mary Carol. 1977. Marion Hilliard. Don Mills, Ont: Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

Magazine Articles:

Hilliard, M. “Women's greatest enemy is fatigue.” Chatelaine, January 1954, 12-13, 57-59.

                  “The menopause is woman's greatest blessing.” Chatelaine, April 1955a, 16-17, 62-65.

                  “The four fears that prey on women.” Chatelaine, July 1955b, 9, 40-43.

                  “Woman's greatest hazard: Another challenging article.” Chatelaine, January 1956a, 7, 47-52.

                  “Dr. Marion Hilliard talks to single women.” Chatelaine, February 1956b, 17, 47-52.

                  “Dr. Marion Hilliard's open letter to husbands.” Chatelaine, 1956c, August 1956c, 9, 52-54.

                  “Stop being just a housewife.” Chatelaine, September 1956c, 11, 90-95.

                  "Dr. Marion Hilliard talks to teen-age girls.” Chatelaine, October 1956e, 11, 100-103.

Archival Resources:

Dept. of Graduate Records file on A. Marion Hilliard, A1973-0026/151(33), University of Toronto Archives. 

Varsity Undergraduate Newspaper, Volumes 42-47a (1922-1927), University of Toronto: Toronto, Ontario. 

Archives of Women’s College Hospital. Series D8. Dr. Marion Hilliard biographical file.

Photo credit: UTA Torontonensis (1927) "A. Marion Hilliard" from University of Toronto Archives Image Bank: Digital Image No.: 2010-48-16MS 

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