A number of letters and other materials pertaining to Hilda Goodman’s life are in the Milwaukee-Downer College Archives at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. The following story has been pieced together from those materials.

From the age of about 15 in London, England, Hilda Goodman had an interest in people with disabilities. In her church hall, she worked with what she called “crippled children” teaching them simple crafts, serving refreshments and singing hymns. She later qualified as a teacher and came to Canada around 1912 to teach school “on the Prairie” in Alberta. Sometime after the beginning of World War 1, she was asked to teach crafts at the Military Hospital in Saskatchewan. Hilda Goodman discussed the matter with a Dr. Miller, with whom she had previously taken a summer course in agriculture and woodwork at the University of Alberta. Dr. Miller asked if she would prefer to have the same job in Alberta and she said “yes” as the Strathcona Military Hospital was on the university’s grounds. She was given a small office and store room at the hospital and $5.00 to buy supplies, including some paints and reed. In a letter written in 1954, she recalled starting that work: “Most of the men were lying on their beds in their uniforms with nothing to do – one boy broke the ice, [saying] ‘I’ll paint.’ Soon most of the boys were working and paying for their materials…” Goodman tells the story of one soldier who had been ordered to stay in bed for 8 weeks to allow his leg to heal and was having difficulty doing so. He agreed to make a basket and not get out of bed until he was done. Somehow, she saw to it that it took him 8 weeks to complete that basket!

When Elizabeth Upham met Hilda Goodman during her visit to Strathcona, Ms. Upham decided she would be perfect for the occupational therapy program she had been asked to establish at Milwaukee Downer College (MDC), a women’s college in Wisconsin. Once the U.S. entered the war, the need for occupational therapists (or reconstruction aides as they called them) both at home and overseas was recognized. The Surgeon General’s office decided to establish “four training centres for teachers of invalid occupations” one of which was to be at MDC. There would be 3 months of practice teaching under supervision in a hospital, in addition to 6 months of courses at the college. Goodman would be hired to organize and supervise the practice teaching (or fieldwork as we would now call it). However, MDC had to raise funds for the program at the same time as it was trying to set it up. A note from Elizabeth Upham to the college president described the dilemma: “I cannot see what we can do without her [referring to Goodman] nor what we could do with her if we do not give the course”! They decided to proceed on faith, believing that if they showed the college trustees the importance of this form of war work they would lend support, which they did.

Hilda Goodman remembered the day she met Elizabeth Upham. “It started me on my way to America – that awful time when flu was raging. I was stopped at the border for a week for no custom official had ever heard of such a job.” Elsewhere she explained that her journey had taken her via Winnipeg where she was examined by an immigration board only to be turned down. Furthermore, she was told she would be watched to see if she tried to cross the border at another point! In addition to dealing with the immigration issues, the influenza outbreak was a great worry to her. “Everyone in Winnipeg was wearing masks; trains were locked going through the town so I thought I should probably get the flu.” Finally, after a series of letters between the American Consul General, the college president and contacts in Washington, she was allowed to cross into the United States.

At first, Hilda Goodman hesitated to accept the offer from MDC. Although she wanted to move to the U.S., her position in Edmonton was very attractive. In a letter to Elizabeth Upham dated Sept 2nd, 1918, she wrote that the Military Hospitals Commission [of Canada] wanted to send her “to the east for 2 or 3 months to see the work in other hospitals and the training courses being given. They would pay all my expenses and salary during the time I was making the trip. Then I was to return to Alberta and look after this work in all the Military Hospitals in the province.” And at the end of the war, Hilda Goodman could return to her permanent teaching job. She did not want to “throw these [opportunities] over unless I am certain I am the right person for the other position.” She went on to say: “It seems such a big thing”, and I would be sorry for you to get me there and then be a failure”. Then she added what was to be a prophetic phrase: “so far though I have made a success of everything I have undertaken.”
Hilda Goodman made a great success of her time in Milwaukee. She developed the first fieldwork placement program at Muirdale Tuberculosis Sanitarium, opening additional programs at new sites as needed and being sure to see that directors at each site were made to feel that the success was their own doing. Indeed, hospitals became concerned when the students’ training ended at their site and this concern became the impetus for hiring occupational therapy staff.

A recruitment ad in the Milwaukee Journal on October 6th, 1918 described the program at the college as an opportunity for people “to learn how to serve their country and mankind by teaching wounded soldiers handicrafts and other manual work to occupy their hands and minds while convalescing … the science of curing by work known as occupational therapy.” The ad traded on Hilda Goodman’s experience and stated: “Miss Hilda B. Goodman, of Strathcona Military Hospital, Edmonton, Canada will supervise the practice teaching in Milwaukee hospitals…”

It is uncertain exactly when Hilda Goodman left Milwaukee, but it was likely sometime in the early 1930’s. She returned to England where she set up a large private practice on the east coast, staying there until the outbreak of World War II. In her retirement she continued to work at helping others and reflected that it seemed she had been “doing OT in one way and another most of [her] life”.

Post-script. We know a lot about Hilda Goodman’s life in Milwaukee but relatively little about her life in Canada. When did she arrive here? Where did she teach school? Are there records of her time at Strathcona (since 1922, the University of Alberta Hospital)? Did she ever return to Canada for a visit? We could do some further digging – on our own soil!

References: Archives of Milwaukee-Downer College, University of Wisconsin. Hilda Goodman files and OT History files: Box 2, Series 6 & 9; Box 3, Series 6; Box 7, Series 1; Box 8, Series 1.