Black Gold

Women of Oil

The female pioneers of Oil Springs

Elizabeth Adamson – First Female Druggist

portrait of elizbeth adamson
Elizabeth Adamson

Refusing to bend before the social traditions, legal and commercial customs of her era, Elizabeth Adamson stands as, perhaps, the most prominent example in this regard. Her story begins with George Adamson’s appointment in the early 1860s as the village’s court clerk. He moved his wife, and two small children to the rough and tumble village of Oil Springs in 1863. While the Adamsons were building their house, the village doctor persuaded him to build on a small wing to hold an office and drug store. After the house was completed, Elizabeth worked as an assistant in the drug store of Dr. Samuel Macklem. Under his direction, Adamson studied the art and science of pharmacy. In 1866, she purchased the doctor’s stock of herbs, chemicals, and medicines and struck out on her own. Not long afterwards, Adamson became the province’s first licensed female pharmacist. After the collapse of the local oil boom, most retailers in Oil Springs either plunged into insolvency, or abandoned the village altogether. The druggist persevered. To keep her shop afloat, she wisely diversified her stock to include a line of groceries. Adamson stayed in business until she was in her late 50s. In 1886 her daughter, Lucy, assumed the store’s management. A few years later John Windlow bought the pharmacy.

Annie McFadden – Nurse

Annie arrived in Oil Springs in 1871. While not formally trained as a nurse, she had spent time working with her grandfather, who was a doctor. The skills she learned from him were put to good use in the village.

While visiting a home, McFadden recognized that a small child was sick with smallpox. She immediately went to the village doctor to warn him. The young doctor had never seen a case of smallpox in his life. She persuaded him to visit the child. He did, but the child died a few days later. McFadden wrote that she had been inoculated ‘for the natural pox’ by her grandfather, so she wasn’t afraid to go along with the doctor to the homes in the village that had infected patients. All of the houses with smallpox were quarantined and some were even burned down, on doctor’s orders. The outbreak was soon stamped out. The doctor eventually took ill, and went home to Niagara Falls.

Doctors came and went over the years, but McFadden continued to spend much of her time helping her neighbours deal with outbreaks of scarlet fever and diphtheria.

Anna L Coghill

Each time a congregation stands for someone to sing the hymn, “Work for the Night is Coming”, they are unknowingly making a connection with a woman from Oil Spring’s past. The author, Anna L. Coghill, was the daughter of the village’s baptist minister. She wrote the words of the hymn while watching men work in the oil fields. Very little is known about Coghill’s time in Oil Springs.

The Oil Museum of Canada has on display a 1905 copy of the Presbyterian Book of Praise, opened to this hymn.