The "mystery" concerns her degrees and the year she graduated. The video below was prepared when she was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1998 [Maud Menten]. If you watch the first few minutes you'll hear that in 1911 Maud Menten was one of the first Canadian women to receive a medical degree. You find similar statements all over the web, although sometimes it says she graduated in 1913—as in the text on the Canadian Hall of Fame website.
There's a slight problem. We have pictures of every graduating class in the corridors of the main floor of my building. Her picture is not in the graduating class of 1911. Not only that, there are a handful of women in the earlier Faculty of Medicine graduating classes dating back to 1907 and before that there was a special Women's College Medical School that had been graduating women for twenty years. She couldn't have been one of the first women to receive a medical degree.1
I've known about this mystery for about five years but today I decided to try and get to the bottom of it. I consulted the people in the alumini office and before long there were three or four people trying to sort it out with whatever records they had. They had a photograph of Maud Menten on the wall so they were motivated to get to the truth about her degrees.
As it turns out, Wikipedia gets it right but the real truth isn't obvious [see Maud Menten]. Here's the Wikipedia entry ...
Maud Menten was born in Port Lambton, Ontario and studied medicine at the University of Toronto (B.A. 1904, M.B. 1907, M.D. 1911). She was among the first women in Canada to earn a medical doctorate. She completed her thesis work at University of Chicago.Later on in the article we find conflicting statements.
After completing secondary school, Menten attended the University of Toronto where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1904 and a master's degree in physiology in 1907. While earning her graduate degree, she worked as a demonstrator in the university's physiology lab.So, what degrees did she earn and when?
A talented student, Menten was appointed a fellow at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City in 1907. There, she studied the effect of radium bromide on cancerous tumors in rats. Menten and two other scientists published the results of their experiment, producing the institute's first monograph. After a year at the Institute, Menten worked as an intern at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. She returned to Canada and began studies at the University of Toronto a year later. In 1911 she became one of the first Canadian women to receive a doctor of medicine degree.
With a bit of sleuthing, and a bit of history, we found the answer. She's in the 1907 graduating class (below). She's in the second row with the four other women who graduated that year (She's 12th from the left, click to embiggen.) The degree she earned was M.B. (Bachelor of Medicine) and that qualified her to practice medicine. It was the standard medical degree at the time. She was not among the first women to receive this degree.
In 1911 she was awarded a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.). In today's terminology that would be equivalent to a Ph.D. in medicine. She was among the first women in Canada to get this advanced degree. It was only a few later that the name of the degree changed so that the undergraduate degree became the M.D. degree. That's where the confusion originates.
The video shows you the picture from her 1907 graduating class, not 1911.
Now I need to find out where she got her Ph.D.
1. The video also states that publication of the Michaelis-Menten equation in 1913 marked the beginning of the field of biochemistry. This might come as a bit of a surprise to Maud Menten since the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto (my department) was founded in 1907/08 and she probably took biochemistry courses while she was studying for her doctorate.