One Woman's Devotion
Jeanne Mance
(1606-1673)
Jeanne Mance was born in 1606 to an affluent family in Langres, France. As a young woman she decided to become a nurse and was able to ply her craft during The Thirty Years War (1618-1648), taking care of the sick and wounded.

When the
Associates of Montreal were looking to begin a mission settlement in New France, Jeanne agreed to go along to estabish a small hospital to care for French settlers, Native Canadians and the soldiers being sent to the small colony by Anne of Austria.

Jeanne Mance has been called the first Lay nurse in North America, and as a person who hates these silly titles, I think that it downplays who she really was.  Yes, she was a nurse, and that's a noble profession, but more than that she was the founder of Hotel Dieu de Montreal, the first hospital there; co-founder of Ville Marie (later the city of Montreal); and often the backbone of the entire enterprise.
When others were ready to quit, she became more determined to forge ahead, shuttling back and forth between France and Quebec, raising funds and recruiting workers, families and anyone willing to lend a hand.  In fact, the history of Montreal cannot be told without mentioning her name, nor that of her partner and life-long friend, Marguerite Bourgeoys.  What Marguerite did for education, Jeanne did for the medical profession, and while Maisonneuve may have been governor, these ladies ruled the roost.
But what first prompted Jeanne to leave family and friends to take on such a challenge?  As it happened her cousin, Nicolas Dolebeau, was the private tutor of the Duc de Richelieu, who often spoke of the opportunities to do mission work amongst the aboriginal people of Canada.  Not since the Crusades, had there been such excitement, and to the devout Miss Mance, it was just the opportunity she was looking for. 

So with an introuction from her cousin, she went to Paris, where she met with Father Charles Lalemant, the priest in charge of the Jesuits in Canada. He in turn, introduced her to
Madame Angélique de Bullion, widow of the French superintendent of Finance under Louis XIII; and daughter of the King's secretary. Angelique was a very wealthy and powerful woman, and it was her who proposed that Jeanne Mance should establish a hospital similar to the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, at Ville Marie. The only stipulation was that Angelique's name be kept out of it, and it was only after her death that others learned of her generosity.
So on May 9, 1641, Jeanne Mance boarded one of two ships leaving for New France, and with Governor Maisonneuve, founded Montreal in September 1642.  The foundation agreement for The Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal was signed in Paris on January 12, 1644; and built the following year.  Her 'secret' benafactress sent furnishings and supplies and they were soon open for business.

Not large,  the wooden  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 and served Montreal until 1654, when a larger building was constructed. 
Jeanne's first patients were brought to her wounded after skirmishes with the Iroquois and with the help of a servant, she prepared medicines and ointments, cleaned and bandaged wounds and comforted the distressed.  Proving herself early, a second agreement was signed on March 17, 1648, stipulating that Jeanne Mance would remain the hospital's administrator until her death and that her living would always be provided for. In 1659, three nurses from La Flèche joined the hospital staff, though they continued to provide medical care at no charge. 

Jeanne Mance died in 1673 with Marguerite Bourgeoys by her side. She has been honoured in many ways, including 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; as well as many other plaques and statues across Canada.
Women in Canadian History Home Page
Montreal Home Page
Uniquely Canadian Site Map
Victorian Canada Home Page
1