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d. 4 Oct. 1913 in Virden, Man.


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CASSIDY, JOHN JOSEPH, physician, office holder, author, and editor; b. 4 July 1843 in Toronto, son of James Cassidy, a tailor, and Margaret Foley; m. 3 Oct. 1878 Appolonia Agrippina Mesner in Walkerton, Ont., and they had five sons and seven daughters; d. 1 Aug. 1914 in Toronto.

One of six children born to a public-spirited Irish-Catholic family, J. J. Cassidy was educated at St Michael’s College in Toronto (1854–60) and at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière in Lower Canada (1860–63). In 1864 he enrolled in the Toronto School of Medicine, where his instructors included William Thomas Aikins*, Edward Mulberry Hodder*, and James Bovell*. After graduating from the University of Toronto with an mb and the Starr Gold Medal in 1868, he did not imitate many of his contemporaries by seeking further training in the United States or Europe. Instead, he went straight into practice in Toronto.

Appointed surgeon to the House of Providence in 1868, Cassidy cared for the next seven years for the orphans, the “infirm, blind, lame and incurable,” and the deaf and dumb students housed in this institution, run by the Sisters of St Joseph. In 1869, in which year he received his md, he became the youngest visiting staff surgeon at Toronto General Hospital, a prestigious but unpaid position. He was transferred to its consulting staff in 1884 and the following year was elected president of the Toronto Medical Society. From 1886 to 1888 he acted as examiner in medicine and therapeutics at the University of Toronto. After the Sisters of St Joseph opened St Michael’s Hospital in 1892, Cassidy served on its admitting staff for five years. In addition to his hospital appointments, he conducted an active general practice from his home, on Church Street during the 1870s and 1880s and on Bloor Street east from 1891 until shortly before his death.

Two other medical interests, sanitary science and medical journalism, dominated Cassidy’s career. In 1882 the provincial Liberal government of Oliver Mowat* responded to lay and medical pressure for legislation to improve public sanitation and control rising mortality rates by passing the Public Health Act and appointing the Provincial Board of Health. This board, the first body in Canada responsible for the systematic protection of public health, initially consisted of doctors William Oldright, Cassidy, Charles William Covernton, John Hall, Francis Rae of Oshawa, and Horace P. Yeomans of Mount Forest. Though Cassidy’s appointment was partly contingent on his Liberal connections, all six members were committed sanitarians who believed that public education and judicious regulation would lead to a decrease in deaths from infectious diseases and contribute to Ontario’s economic advancement.

With a dynamic young secretary in Dr Peter Henderson Bryce*, the board set up standing committees and began to provide expert advice on changes in policy and adjudicate local sanitation problems. (A second Public Health Act, in 1884, required the formation of local boards of health which were to report to the provincial body.) Cassidy was particularly interested in such issues as the heating and ventilation of buildings and protecting children’s health through school inspections and regulations to control communicable disease. From 1882 to 1886 he served on several committees that worked with the Department of Education to develop the Manual of hygiene for schools and colleges . . . (Toronto, 1886). As a trustee for St James’ Ward from 1886 to 1890, he had the opportunity to ensure that the Toronto Separate School Board implemented the “specifications for water closets, drinking water, cleansing of floors, walls, seats, etc., situation of schools, lighting, heating and ventilation” that he and his colleagues on the board had devised. He also pressed the cause as a member of other professional bodies: in 1885, for instance, he had urged the Toronto Medical Society to support the Toronto Sanitary Association in its efforts to obtain a plumbing inspector for the city.

In 1891–92 Cassidy chaired the provincial board. He attended the International Congress of Hygiene and Demography in London in 1891, and represented Ontario at the federal-provincial meeting in January 1893 to discuss regulations for the control of cholera. In 1898 he was elected president of the Association of Executive Health Officers of Ontario in recognition of his service on the provincial board and his commitment to preventive medicine. He continued to sit on the board until 21 Aug. 1906 and produced numerous reports and studies which highlighted the importance of the bacteriological revolution in sewage treatment and the emergence of tuberculosis as a significant threat. Some insight into his moral concept of public health is contained in his remarks to the AEHOO in 1896: “Without assuming the office of the Christian religion in creating the Kingdom of God upon this earth, preventive medicine in its daily routine is constantly at war with the selfishness of the world, because, while it works in the world and for the benefit of the world, its own motives are not worldly.”

Cassidy’s interest in medical journalism emerged in part from his commitment to public health. In 1892–93 he assisted with the Ontario Medical Journal (Toronto) and in the mid 1890s wrote on diphtheria for the Dominion Medical Monthly. When the Canadian Journal of Medicine and Surgery began in January 1897, Cassidy was jointly responsible for its department on public health and hygiene but within the year he had become editor of the entire publication, a position he would hold until his death. This journal competed with the Canada Lancet (Toronto) and included numerous articles on public health activities in Canada and abroad. In addition to medical journalism, Cassidy served on the board of trustees of the Toronto Public Library in 1891–92 and on the University of Toronto’s senate, representing St Michael’s College, from 1901 to 1910. He died in 1914 of a heart attack at his residence at 6 Spadina Road; his estate, which was bequeathed to his wife, contained a cottage at Long Branch Park and other real estate, much of which had been bought using Appolonia’s own money.

J. J. Cassidy’s career represents the mix of public service and private practice that characterized the first generation of medical bureaucrats in Ontario. Motivated largely by community interest and religious zeal, these men organized non-governmental lobbying groups, conducted detailed studies of specific problems, and used their close ties to the economic and political élites to obtain the legislation which produced the 20th-century regulatory state.

Heather MacDougall

[There are no known Cassidy papers. Among his few published articles are: “The antitoxin treatment of diphtheria,” “Anti-diphtheritic serum,” and “Clinical notes of a case of cancer of the oesophagus,” in the Dominion Medical Monthly (Toronto), 3 (July–December 1894): 141–47 and 4 (January–June 1895): 3–5 and 61–63 respectively. Cassidy apparently devoted his efforts to editorial work, and in the Canadian Journal of Medicine and Surgery (Toronto) he differentiated his editorials from those of his colleagues by putting the writer’s initials at the end of each piece. A cursory examination of the journal indicates that Cassidy focused his attention on public health issues and medico-scientific advances.  h.macd.]

AO, RG 22-305, no.28993; RG 80-2; RG 80-5-0-71, no.1578; RG 80-8-0-517, no.4866. Arch. of the Academy of Medicine, Toronto East General Hospital, Toronto Medical Soc., minute-book, 1876–86. Mount Hope Cemetery (Toronto), Burial records and tombstones, sect.16, lot 286. MTRL, SC, Toronto Public Library papers, board minutes, 1890–93. NA, RG 31, C1, Toronto, St James’ Ward, 1871, div.2: 62; 1891, div.7: 58–59 (mfm. at AO). Toronto Hospital, Toronto General Div. Arch., board of trustees, minutes of meetings, vols.2–4 (1866–1904). UTA, A73-0026/54 (12); P78-0004 (07). Catholic Register (Toronto), 20 Oct. 1914. Globe, 3 Aug. 1914. World (Toronto), 3 Aug. 1914. Assoc. of Executive Health Officers of Ontario, Report (Toronto), 1887–1903. Canadian Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 36 (July–December 1914): 107. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Canadian Practitioner and Medical Rev. (Toronto), 39 (1914): 585. C. K. Clarke, A history of the Toronto General Hospital . . . (Toronto, 1913). Directory, Toronto, 1868/69–1913. Heather MacDougall, “‘Enlightening the public’: the views and values of the Association of Executive Health Officers of Ontario, 1886–1903,” in Health, disease and medicine: essays in Canadian history, ed. C. G. Roland ([Toronto], 1984), 436–64. Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, 1883–93, 1897, 1903 (reports of the Provincial Board of Health, 1882–92, 1896, 1902); Statutes, 1882, c.29; 1884, c.38; 1887, c.34. Physicians and surgeons of America; a collection of biographical sketches of the regular medical profession, comp. and ed. I. A. Watson (Concord, N.H., 1896).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Heather MacDougall, “CASSIDY, JOHN JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cassidy_john_joseph_14E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cassidy_john_joseph_14E.html
Author of Article:   Heather MacDougall
Title of Article:   CASSIDY, JOHN JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   October 4, 2023