Voices of Acadia | Lillian Chase (’16)

Lillian Chase (’16) was ahead of her time. When women were little more than a novelty at many universities, she was already a BWOC (Big Woman on Campus) at Acadia. Blessed with great athletic ability and an inquiring mind, she was at the epicentre of university life: editor of the Athenaeum; a mainstay of literary societies; and active in student government.

As an athlete, she was a true pioneer. Despite the fact that women were limited to intramural competitions, she put no limitations on her achievements on the field of play. She spearheaded teams in extra-league competition in hockey and basketball and helped set the standard for female Acadia athletes to come.

Armed with a BA from Acadia, Chase’s competitive drive and pioneering spirit led her to the University of Toronto, where she earned a degree in medicine and collaborated with Banting and Best on research that would lead to the development of the miracle drug insulin, then called ‘Banting fluid.’

She interned at the Toronto General Hospital, where she was able to observe the new diabetic clinic and witnessed the first administration of insulin to a human. Her invaluable knowledge of diabetes treatment opened further doors for her and eventually she set up a general practice in Regina, Saskatchewan.  

Ever the champion of her sex, she used her free time to mentor nursing students in the city. In 1932 she was elected president of the Regina General Hospital, another first for women. During World War II, she joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps and, when the war was over, specialized in internal medicine in Toronto hospitals. Chase holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Canadian Diabetes Association.

“My aunt Lillian came home (to Wolfville) every summer for a couple of weeks to visit family and friends,” recalls her niece, Peggy (Chase) Smith. “I can remember she would sit in the window of our dining room and read. She was a great reader. I would drive her over to visit her Acadia classmates, Esther Clark Wright (’16) and Bessie Lockhart (’16).

“She came with my parents to my nursing graduation from the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. I remember she wore a large hat and I wondered about the people sitting behind her. To this very day, I am still wearing her watch.”

To learn more about Lillian Chase, visit the Acadia Archives.

Originally published in Voices of Acadia, Vol. III.

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