Dorothy Dworkin was born in Latvia in 1889 and immigrated to Canada with her family in 1904. She was the first nurse at her brother’s free Jewish Dispensary in Toronto, but decided she wanted to become a maternity nurse. Dorothy left to study nursing at Mount Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, trained as a midwife and, in 1909, acquired her diploma from the Medical State Board of Ohio. Upon her return from Cleveland, Dorothy took responsibility for the dispensary and, with a group of missionaries, formed its women’s auxiliary and became its first president. The auxiliary later developed into an orphanage for Jewish children.
In 1911, Dorothy married Henry Dworkin, whose family owned a tobacco and shipping agency called Dworkin Travel. The Dworkins assisted hundreds of Jewish people immigrating to Canada before and after World War II, travelling all over Eastern Europe to assist families moving to Canada. In 1928, Dorothy’s husband, Henry, was tragically killed in a car accident. News reports indicate that 20,000 people attended his funeral, illustrating the impact the Dworkin family had on the community. Dorothy continued to run the travel business and devoted her life to charitable work. After the Holocaust, Dworkin Travel provided assistance for Survivors both in Canada and internationally. In her role at the free Jewish Dispensary, she provided free health and social services to many immigrant Jews. After Toronto General Hospital refused to provide kosher meals or accommodate the language needs of its Jewish patients, Dorothy helped establish the Toronto Jewish Convalescent and Maternity Hospital, which eventually became Mount Sinai Hospital.
Dorothy Dworkin had a remarkable impact on Canadian history. As a founder of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, she created opportunities for Jewish doctors and patients to receive accommodating services for their language and religious observances. She was a member of the Mount Sinai Hospital Board, President of the Continental Steamship Ticket Agents Association, and Director of the Toronto Labour Lyceum, founded by her late husband. She also served as the Secretary of the Jewish Labour Committee in the 1930s, was active in the Canadian Jewish Congress and was a trustee of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. Dorothy worked hard not only for herself as an immigrant woman in a new country, but for a better life for others.
In 2009, Dorothy was made a Person of National Historic Significance for her work as a prominent Jewish Canadian nurse, businesswoman, and philanthropist. To commemorate the day, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, the Honourable Jason Kenney, remarked:
“The story of Dorothy Dworkin is a fine example of how immigrants influenced the history of Canada and helped make the rich and diverse country it is today.”