MAILLOUX, ÉLODIE (baptized Marie-Mélodie), Sister of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montreal, administrator, nurse, and educator; b. 9 Feb. 1865 in Saint-Jean (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), Lower Canada, daughter of Magloire Mailloux, a blacksmith, and Rosalie Langlois; d. 27 Dec. 1937 in Montreal.
Like many French Canadians who sought to improve their economic situation, Élodie Mailloux’s family emigrated to New England, settling in Fall River, Mass., in 1867. When she was old enough for school, Élodie was enrolled as a boarder at the Couvent Jésus-Marie there. On completing her studies, at the age of 17 she rejoined her family, who had recently moved to Ware, another place that had a large Franco-American community. The parish priest, Jean Charlebois, encouraged her to enter religious life and guided her towards the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montreal (Grey Nuns). She was a novice in that community from 1884 to 1887, after which she made her final vows.
Sister Mailloux was immediately made bursar at the mother house of the Grey Nuns on Rue Guy in Montreal. In 1894 her superiors sent her to St Vincent’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, which was run by the congregation. Her career now took what would prove a decisive turn. At first she worked as a nurse in the women’s wards and in the operating room. Then, at the request of the community’s council, she set up in Toledo the Grey Nuns’ first nursing school, which opened in 1896. Fortified by this experience, she was recalled to Montreal by the superior general to organize at Notre-Dame Hospital the first French-language nursing school in Canada. Founded in 1897, the École des Hospitalières et Gardes-Malades de l’Hôpital Notre-Dame admitted its first students in 1898. With the opening of this school, which accepted laypeople, the Grey Nuns would pioneer nursing instruction for French Canadian women, whether nuns or laity. English-speaking Canadians had had the benefit of such schools since the 1870s [see Theophilus Mack*].
As director of the nursing school (1898–1902), as well as head nurse (1897–99) and then superior at Notre-Dame Hospital (1899–1902), Sister Mailloux made her mark on the history of nursing care in Quebec by inaugurating a secular nursing education for French Canadian women that was to be given by trained personnel. “In our time especially,” she noted on 3 April 1899, “we must resign ourselves to meeting scientific requirements. Therefore, my dear sisters, you must make every effort to acquire the necessary knowledge … and give the doctors as much satisfaction as they get from the lay nurses.” This initiative may have been too daring a step for the community to take. Whatever the case, Sister Mailloux interrupted her activities at the hospital to assume important administrative duties within her community. She was assistant general of the Grey Nuns from 1902 to 1907, superior of the vicairie of Ville-Marie (the province of Ville-Marie by 1915) from 1907 to 1915, bursar general from 1915 to 1925, and local superior in Cambridge, Mass., in 1925–26.
Sister Mailloux was transferred back to Notre-Dame Hospital to take over as head nurse in 1926–27 and then was superior from 1927 to 1930. The professional status of nurses had been established in Quebec by a statute enacted in 1920 that incorporated the Association of Registered Nurses of the Province of Quebec. The major religious communities, however, convinced that nursing was more a vocation motivated by a sense of charity than a profession with obligatory appropriate training, baulked at accepting this new order. Furthermore, in the hospitals at that time the various categories of health-care professionals were in conflict with each other about their rank and job descriptions. During her second term as superior of Notre-Dame Hospital, Sister Mailloux devoted her efforts mainly to defending the professional role of nurses as administrators and health-care specialists. She did not see nurses as being under the authority of physicians in the new roles assigned to them; rather, she recommended the adoption of professional criteria for everyone. She endeavoured, for example, to spell out the tasks of the nun who was head nurse and make sure that she had some autonomy as part of a medical team in which the responsibilities and prerogatives of each profession were clearly established.
In 1930, stricken with illness, Sister Élodie Mailloux resumed her duties as bursar general of the community, a position she retained for the rest of her life. She died at the mother house on 27 Dec. 1937 of a cerebral embolism with hemiplegia, and was buried three days later at the community’s cemetery in Châteauguay. The creation of the École des Hospitalières et Gardes-Malades de l’Hôpital Notre-Dame and, subsequently, the ongoing negotiations with the lay physicians and administrators of the hospital (the Grey Nuns not being its owners, but its managers under contract) bear witness to Sister Mailloux’s keen sense of organization as well as her ability to adapt to new and complex situations. She was one of the first to help transform, in French Canada, the role of the traditional nurse. Considered a charitable vocation until then, the nursing profession would now take its place as one of the true health-care professions, supported by rigorous and scientific training.
The author wishes to thank Esther Lamontagne for her contribution to the writing of this biography, as well as Hélène Leblond and François M. Nadeau, archivists of the Grey Nuns, for the information that they graciously provided.
Several extremely useful files for the preparation of the biography of Sister Élodie Mailloux can be found at the Arch. des Sœurs Grises (Montréal): the one that carries her name and which contains a biog. note and a document entitled “Obédiences”; L036 (hôpital Notre-Dame)/F (corr.), 2 (corr. générale, 1926–50), in particular the letter from the superior general to the treasurer of the administration office, June 1926, and the letter from the treasurer to the superior Labelle, dated 9 June 1926; and the documents held in 24b (hôpitaux – historique – corr.).
For more information on the professionalization of nurses, the reader should consult the author’s article, “La contribution des Sœurs de la charité à la modernisation de l’hôpital Notre-Dame, 1880–1940,” CHR, 77 (1996): 185–220, and her book, Profession infirmière: une histoire des soins dans les hôpitaux du Québec ([Montréal], 2000). For questions relating to the training of nurses and to the development of nursing knowledge, the reader is referred to Yolande Cohen et al., Les sciences infirmières: genèse d’une discipline: histoire de la faculté des sciences infirmières de l’université de Montréal ([Montréal], 2002).
BANQ-CAM, CE604-S10, 10 févr. 1865. Le Devoir, 31 mars 1941. La Presse, 29 déc. 1937. Anita Caron, “Élodie Mailloux (1865–1937): fondatrice de la première école catholique de gardes-malades du Canada,” in Ces femmes qui ont bâti Montréal, sous la dir. de Maryse Darsigny et al. (Montréal, 1994), 132–33. Édouard Desjardins et al., Histoire de la profession infirmière au Québec (Montréal, 1970), 221. Lucie Deslauriers, “Histoire de l’hôpital Notre-Dame de Montréal, 1880–1924” (mémoire de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1984). Albertine Ferland‑Angers, L’École d’infirmières de l’hôpital Notre-Dame, Montréal, 1898–1948 (Montréal, 1948). Julienne Gravel, “À la mémoire de mère Mailloux,” La Garde-malade canadienne-française (Montréal), 11 (1938): 125–26. Hôpital Notre-Dame, L’École d’infirmières de l’hôpital Notre-Dame, Montréal, 1898–1968 ([Montréal, 1968]). Estelle Mitchell, L’essor apostolique: Sœurs de la charité de Montréal, “sœurs grises,” 1877–1910 ([Montréal], 1981).