Remembering Distinguished Professor Emerita Wendy Mitchinson, 1947-2021

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Wendy Philpott
Distinguished Professor Emerita Wendy Mitchinson of the Department of History died on October 23, 2021. A pioneering women’s historian, she joined the University of Waterloo with tenure in 1985 and held the Canada Research Chair in Gender and Medical History from 2006 to 2013.

“Wendy was a trailblazer and valued colleague,” says Professor Dan Gorman, Department of History chair. “Her legacy is apparent in the many graduate students with whom she worked, and who are now pursuing careers both outside and within the academy.”

Mitchinson co-authored Canadian Women: A History, the first comprehensive study of women in Canada that earned her a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award. In addition to her groundbreaking books about the history of the medical treatment of women and one about the history of obesity in Canada — Fighting Fat: Canada 1920-1980, published in 2018 — she was the author of many articles and edited, co-edited and contributed essays to numerous books. Receiving two Royal Society of Canada Jason A. Hannah medals recognizing advancements in the history of medicine, she retired from her career at Waterloo in 2013 as a Distinguished Professor Emerita. In 2018, the Department of History hosted a Symposium recognizing Mitchinson’s many accomplishments.

Fighting Fat in Canada bookcover

Bodily Failure bookcover

Giving Birth in Canada bookcover

“With characteristic elegance Wendy taught us all that world-class scholarship is at its best when balanced with loving partnership, enduring friendships, dedicated teaching, and generous sociability,” says Professor Julia Roberts from History. “She offered intellectual engagement and rigorous critique wrapped up in a bubble of good humour and understanding. I knew her as my MA supervisor, a dinner-party bon vivant, a friend, and a treasured colleague in UW History. I will miss her always.”  

“I was privileged to be able to work with Wendy,” says Professor Jane Nicholas (St Jerome’s). “When I heard the news of her passing, I reached for one of her many books on my shelf, so I could hear her voice in my head once more. She pioneered new fields of study in Canadian history and wrote with remarkable clarity and force. Some of her work also captured her joyful sense of humour. One of these was her essay No One Becomes a Feminist to Be Appreciated. But we did appreciate her —and we do — for that and much more. Among her many accomplishments are those hard to capture in neat lines, such as the feminist community of scholars she helped to build and sustain. I join that community in grieving a remarkable scholar, a generous mentor, and a wise colleague.”

Wendy Mitchinson in office in 1991
As a teacher, Mitchinson was a dedicated, supportive, and much-loved supervisor and mentor to scores of graduate students who established distinguished careers both within and outside the academy. According to her students, she was their role model, their guide, their support, their advocate, and their very best critic. In 2013, she won the University’s Award of Excellence in Graduate Supervision.

“As my master’s supervisor at UWaterloo in the late 1980s, Wendy was pivotal in my own turn towards women’s history as a transformative way to interpret the past,” says Professor Marlene Epp (Conrad Grebel). “In her supportive and forthright manner, she gave me, and many other female graduate students, the confidence to pursue a career in academia.”

Mitchinson was a great believer in work-life balance; she travelled widely, was an enthusiastic and prolific gardener, and found joy in her dogs and cats and in the natural world. She leaves her partner of 50 years, Rex Lingwood, her family, friends and colleagues — many of whom often remarked that “she had a smile that could light up a room.”

Wendy Mitchinson in garden

Professor Andrew Hunt, a colleague in History recently wrote: “Modesty was one of Wendy’s traits… You’d never guess from spending time with her that you were in the presence of one of the greatest historians this country has ever produced.”

Professor John Sbardellati, also a department colleague, said: “She was a most welcoming and friendly colleague… In addition to being a fine scholar, Wendy did wonders for department congeniality. She will be missed.”

This article was adapted from the obituary for Wendy Mitchinson.

Memorial donations can be made to the Wendy Mitchinson Graduate Award in History at the University of Waterloo (to discuss donation to the scholarship, please contact Nancy Mattes, Assoc. Director, Advancement) or to Sakura House Woodstock.