Allemang, Margaret May

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Allemang, Margaret May

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Margaret May Allemang and her twin brother, William Herbert, were born in Toronto on 19 July 1914. She had a twin brother, William Herbert, and later another brother, Robert Milner; all three eventually graduated from the University of Toronto. She grew up in the family residence at 320 Willard Avenue and, as a child, developed chronic osteomyelitis, resulting in frequent stays in hospital and the delaying of her high school graduation from Humberside Collegiate. In 1937, the year after William received his Bachelor of Commerce, she entered the University of Toronto, graduating with a Diploma in Public Health Nursing (Parts I and II) in 1940. Her 1956 master’s thesis from the University of Washington in Seattle was on “factors affecting the sleep of patients”; it was one of the earliest dissertations in clinical nursing. Her doctorate, from the University of Washington, was not completed until 1974. She had to fit it in with her teaching duties and her thesis committee rejected her initial proposal to construct a theory of nursing based on an existentialist approach to man (derived from her own experience of how a medical crisis like hers could be transformative). Also, according to her nephew John Allemang, she was “a great procrastinator” [1]. The topic that was finally approved (in 1968) was the development of nursing education in the United States and Canada from 1873 to 1950. It was the first study ever published on Canadian nursing history.

Professor Allemang was an ‘inveterate deep thinker’ and, ‘one of the new breed of nurses who emerged from an academic program instead of from an in-hospital apprenticeship, was a pioneer in applying research methodology to traditional nursing' [2]. Margaret’s first employment was as an assistant head nurse on a cancer unit at Toronto General Hospital, at $80 a month, a position that lasted until 1942 when she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Flying Officer/Nursing Sister [3]. She never went overseas and was discharged on 10 December 1945. Then, over the next three years, she entered a whirlwind of academic studies at the University of Toronto. In 1946-1947, she took a supplemental year in nursing, receiving her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1947 (she was one of two students to receive first class honours). In the fall of 1947 she registered as an occasional student in the general course in nursing education, combining this with a pass Bachelor of Arts programme (English Literature, History, and Psychology). She received a Certificate of Nursing Education in 1948 and her BA at the autumn convocation in 1949.

In 1949 she obtained employment as a Nursing Arts instructor at the Belleville General Hospital School of Nursing and travelled to Kingston each week to teach ‘Trends and Issues in Nursing’ at Queen’s University. In the fall of 1950, she returned to the University of Toronto as a lecturer in the School of Nursing. After she had obtained her Master’s degree, the School asked her to design and conduct a research project in conjunction with Toronto Western Hospital. The experiences of eight cardiac patients during a period of hospitalization in a General Hospital, which appeared in 1960, was the first patient care study of its kind conducted in Canada [4]. Allemang was promoted to assistant professor in 1959, then returned to the University of Washington to further her education. She enrolled in the Department of Education as there was no doctoral program in nursing. In 1964 she received an appointment as a pre-doctoral teaching associate II in the School of Nursing. But by March of 1965 she was expressing reservations: “I am most concerned about not fulfilling the requirements of Education 600 – as I perceive them – this quarter…I feel as a matter of intellectual and personal integrity I cannot register for any more credit hours unless I can make more progress toward my academic goals” [5]

Professor Allemang returned to her teaching duties at the University of Toronto in the fall of 1965; the School, in preparing for a graduate program, needed staff with experience in nursing research. She was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 1966 and continued to broaden the purview of contemporary clinical research. In 1967 she initiated a three-year study at Sunnybrook Hospital to try out a new type of organization and system for the provision of nursing care, with an emphasis on nursing performance and patient well-being. Her report appeared in 1971 [6]. In 1968, she was a member of a subcommittee of the Ontario Council of Health, chaired by Harding le Riche; it recommended a permanent committee on research in nursing be established. She retired on 1 January 1982 but from 1982-1984 continued to be jointly responsible for the core seminars in the graduate program.

One of the developments arising from Professor Allemang’s research for her doctoral thesis was making contact with a group of history-making women in the Nursing Sisters Association of Canada, where she discovered dozens of women who had been principal actors in the drama of war. In 1977 she began interviewing them and transcribing their interviews. By the early 1990s, she had completed or directed interviews with 26 World War I and 17 World War II nursing sisters, though she did not consider the project finished [7]. She also became very active in the Canadian Nursing Sisters Association, Toronto Unit, serving variously as president, vice-president and treasurer, and chair of its committee on archives.

Professor Allemang played an active role in the numerous professional associations to which she belonged and continued long after her retirement. For example, she sat on the advisory council of the Canadian Nurses Association from 1985 to 1992 (the CNA had a number of umbrella groups, including the Canadian Nursing Research Group, in which she was also active), and, beginning in 1986, attended many of the early conferences of the American Association for the History of Nursing. In the early 1980s, she initiated a series of meetings at her residence on Willard Avenue with a group interested in nursing history that included her colleague Judith Young from the University of Toronto and Kathryn McPherson from York University. The result was the Ontario Society for the History of Nursing, which Professor Allemang co-founded with Professor Young in 1986. In 1994, the Society incorporated as the Margaret M. Allemang Centre for the History of Nursing, in her honour. Also in 1986, Professor Allemang was the co-founder, with Professor Barbara Keddy of Dalhousie University, of the Canadian Association for the History of Nursing/Association Canadienne pour l’Histoire du Nursing (CAHN/ACHN). She was the convener of the organization’s first two conferences and also served as honorary president.

The range of her activities in ‘retirement’ is shown by the following documented activities in the early 1990s. In 1990 and 1991 she acted as a consultant and adviser to the Canadian Association for University Schools of Nursing and the Canadian Nursing Research Group. In 1991 and 1992 she acted as a consultant to a research project, “Canadian Association of University Schools of Nursing: Origins and development of a female nursing organization.” At the same time her expertise was sought for the introductory bibliography of a course at the University of Alberta, ‘Nursing 684: History and politics of nursing’. In 1993 Barbara Sibbald asked her for advice on an article on the current threat to self regulation that she was penning for CAN Today. One of her last major projects was her participation in the Ontario Society for the History of Nursing’s nursing archives survey (1992-1993) which resulted in A Directory of Nursing Archival Material in Ontario (1994). In 1997 she was honoured with the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario Honorary Life Membership.

On a more personal note, Professor Allemang was, for a few years from the late 1990s, active in the Elderhostel program in Ontario. She was very hospitable and through her church, St. John Evangelical Lutheran (on the board of which she served) she assisted, over many years, new arrivals from other countries, especially Ethiopia, the Crimea and Iran. Often they became her tenants and she assisted them financially as well. In old age, a term she hated, Professor Allemang continued to live in her home, refusing to move to ‘easier’ surroundings. On the morning of 14 April 2005, a former tenant dropped by and exclaimed, “Margaret, you don’t look at all well”. She was “propped against the kitchen table, her eyes wide open and resisting the summons of Death… Stubborn to the last, Margaret Allemang died standing up” [8].


  1. Obituary, Globe & Mail, 2005-07-25, S9
  2. Obituary, Globe & Mail, 2005-07-25, S9
  3. Margaret May Allemang, AAHNB, 8
  4. Margaret May Allemang, AAHNB, 8
  5. U of T Archives, B2006-0016/002(xx), Margaret Allemang to Gordon Lee, Dean, College of Education, University of Washington, 17 March 1965.
  6. President’s Report, 1967-1968, 73, 1969-1970, 75; 1969-1970, 48; ‘Report of a project to implement, assess and refine a decentralized system to facilitate patient-centred care’, University of Toronto School of Nursing, May 1971
  7. Margaret May Allemang, AAHNB, 8
  8. John Allemang, ‘You don’t need to worry about me’, Globe & Mail, 2005-05-14, F6


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The information for this biographical sketch has been gleaned largely from ‘Highlighting an AAHN member – Margaret May Allemang, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto’, American Association for the History of Nursing Bulletin, 71 (Summer 2001), 8-9; John Allemang, ‘You don’t need to worry about me’, Globe & Mail, 2005-05-14, F6; and Margaret’s obituary (Globe & Mail, 2005-07-25, S9), with additional information from the University of Toronto president’s reports, calendars, commencement programs, and miscellaneous newspaper clippings in A1973-0026 and her ‘people file’ in the University of Toronto Archives.

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