This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.
First lay nurse in North America
The history of Montreal cannot be told without mentioning the name of Jeanne Mance. She fully deserves to be recognized as the founder of Montreal along with Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. Jeanne Mance arrived in New France a few months before Maisonneuve, and was accompanied by him when she travelled for the first time from Quebec to Montreal. Throughout her life, she worked relentlessly to ensure this French settlement in America prospered.
Our interest here lies in Jeanne Mance's roles as founder of the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, as administrator of this first Montreal hospital and, particularly, as nurse. She was in fact the first lay nurse to practise in North America.
Jeanne Mance was born in 1606 to a well-to-do family of state officials in Langres, France. She decided early in life to become a nurse. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) gave her the first opportunity to practice the care she would offer the sick throughout her life.
The arrival of Jeanne Mance in New France like that of Maisonneuve and, in 1653, that of Marguerite Bourgeoys, who would take charge of education five years later must be understood in the context of the religious and missionary fervour that gripped France in the 17th century. At the time, Montreal was not a settlement but a missionary colony, established to convert the Aboriginal populations to Catholicism.
It was probably Jeanne Mance's cousin, Nicolas Dolebeau, a chaplain in Paris and private tutor to the Duc de Richelieu, who first spoke to her of New France. Jeanne Mance was 34 years of age at the time and discovered her vocation through their discussions about missionaries in America. A lay person devoted to serving God, she consulted her spiritual advisor, who advised her to travel to Paris to visit Père Charles Lalemant, who was in charge of the Jesuits in Canada. While in Paris, Jeanne Mance also met Madame Angélique de Bullion, widow of the French superintendent of Finance under Louis XIII and daughter of the King's secretary. She proposed that Jeanne Mance establish a hospital similar to the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec in the area that was later to become Montreal.
On May 9, 1641, Jeanne Mance boarded one of two ships leaving for New France, as did Maisonneuve, with whom she founded Montreal in September 1642. Not only did Jeanne Mance establish a hospital but, with remarkable zeal, she directed her energy towards laying the colony's very foundations. When the Montreal mission was in jeopardy, she crossed the Atlantic several times to save it from ruin.
The Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal was built in 1645. The foundation agreement was signed in Paris on January 12, 1644. Located between Rue St-Paul and Rue St-Sulpice, the modest wood building measured 60 feet long by 24 feet wide, with six beds for men and two beds for women. It was surrounded by a stockade and a trench. This hospital served Montreal until 1654, when a larger building was built. Thanks to the generosity of Madame de Bullion, the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal was founded [translation] "on this island in the name of St. Joseph and in his honour, as a place where the country's sick and poor could be fed, cared for and administered medicine, and taught that which is essential to their salvation [...]" (Daveluy 1962, p. 108) Jeanne Mance had come to New France to be a nurse. In 1644-1645, skirmishes with the Iroquois brought her her very first patients. With the help of a servant, she prepared medicines and ointments, and cleaned wounds. We must remember that the practice of medicine in the mid-17th century was much different than medicine as we know it today.
A second agreement signed on March 17, 1648, stipulated that Jeanne Mance would remain the hospital's administrator until her death and that her living would be provided there. In the event of her death, a community of nurses would be established to serve the poor without charge (Daveluy 1962). In 1659, several years before her death, three nurses from La Flèche arrived in New France to help care for patients at the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal.
Jeanne Mance died in 1673 with Marguerite Bourgeoys by her side. Her work has been commemorated in a number of ways: a statue by Louis-Philippe Hébert in front of the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal; Parc Jeanne-Mance at the foot of Mont Royal, in Montreal; the Jeanne-Mance electoral riding in the greater Montreal area; and Health Canada's Jeanne-Mance building, in Ottawa.
Daigle, Sylvie ; Fotso, Gilberte. "Jeanne" [online]. Les femmes fondatrices de Montréal. Revised April 20, 2000. [Ref. June 25, 2001]. Access : www.er.uqam.ca/merlin/ak691533/testament.htm
D'Allaire, Micheline. "Jeanne Mance à Montréal en 1642 : une femme d'action qui force les événements". Forces. No 23 (1973). P. 38-46
Daveluy, Marie-Claire. Jeanne Mance, 1606-1673. Montreal : Fides, 1962. 419 p.
"Jeanne Mance". Dictionary of Canadian biography. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1966- . Vol. I, p. 483-487. Also published in French under the title: Dictionnaire biographique du Canada.
Morin, Marie. Histoire simple et véritable : les annales de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, 1659-1725. - Ed. critique par Ghislaine Legendre. Montreal : Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 1979. 348 p.
Oury, Guy-Marie. Jeanne Mance et le rêve de M. de la Dauversière. Chambray [France] : C.L.D., 1983. 264 p.
Côté, Jean. Jeanne Mance, l'héroïque infirmière. Outremont : Quebecor, 1995. 93 p.