Dr. Sigridur (Sigga) Christianson
Dr. Sigga Christianson c. 1925

Dr. Sigridur (Sigga) Christianson Houston

page 1 | page 2 | page 3



home | back to NIHM website
The Book Of Life
Alphabetical Story Index
Taken from the Icelandic Appeal website, circa 2000.
Houston, Dr. Sigridur (Sigga) Christianson

Baldur Olson, a bachelor who lived on the next farm in the early years, was under the watchful eye of Sesselja, who invited him for Sunday dinner and often did his washing and darning (Baldur went on to graduate from Manitoba Medical College in 1915, then worked at the Ninette Sanatorium and later practised in Winnipeg.) Baldur’s mother, “Aunty Olson”, as Sigga always called her, offered an opportunity for fu rther education. Sigga could work in Mr. Olson’s boarding house in Winnipeg preparing meals for the working for the Bardal Funeral Parlour, and go to school. Sigga was exultant, but there was a problem. She could hardly go to Grade 9 in Winnipeg if she didn’t have a warm winter coat. Her father didn’t have $10 to his name. Sesselja Rakel’s closest brother, Gisli Sveinsson, born 15 March 1859 [sic] at Loni Beach south of Gimli, was informed of the situation and gave Sigga the $10 which made her education possible.

In Winnipeg, Sigga got up at 5 am each day, cooked breakfast for the men, and then went to High School. Next she moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to attend normal school, where she graduated in the class of 1914.

During four years as a teacher at rural schools near Wynyard and at Bruno, Saskatchewan, Sigga saved enough money to finance her education at the University of Manitoba. She boarded with Mrs. Jonas Thorvardson at 768 Victor Street, near the Medical College (where Sigga’s son later boarded with the same lady). Sigga took a year of pre-med and then was one of 13 women accepted into the College of Medicine (there were 14 women in a class picture taken later). Ten of them graduated in 1925, an unprecedented number of women among a graduating class of 55, a proportion not to be equaled for about 40 years.

Each spring, Sigga took the ‘Great West Express’ home from Winnipeg on a Friday evening in late April, and taught at Grandy School near Wynyard until the last Friday before medical classes began the following morning –usually in September. She put her pupils in the eight or 10 grades through the year’s curriculum in less than five month; there were no summer holidays for her.


In the summer of 1924, she worked for five months at Fort Qu’Appelle Sanatorium under Dr. RG Ferguson, concluding in late September with the highly reputed Weyburn Survey of the health of children and the prevalence of tuberculosis. She received room, board and a small stipend at the sanatorium, and got credit for all five months of medicine internship from Manitoba Medical College.

Fifty years later, when her medical student granddaughter, Margaret Sigrithur Houston, asked Sigga whether it was difficult for a woman medical student in the 1920s, she said “Not at all, every one of the professors was so nice to me.” On one hand, Sigga had lifelong propensity for remembering pleasant things and completely repressing anything unpleasant. On the other hand, she idolized and had the full support, not only of Dr. Baldur Olson, but also of several of Winnipeg’s leading teachers, surgeon Brandur J. Brandson (MD Manitoba 1900), obstetrician Olafur Bjornson (MD Manitoba 1897), and one of the city’s promising young surgeons, Paul HT Thorlakson (MD Manitoba 1916).

At the time of Sigga’s graduation in 1925, the University of Manitoba Brown and Gold contained a succinct and accurate report concerning her:

“A Saskatchewan product and a credit to the province. Her tenacity of purpose, and diligence in studies has only been exceeded to her loyalty to her many friends. Hobby: Red hair and fudge-making. A tender heart, a will inflexible.”

Research in the archives in Reykjavik suggests that Sigga was the first Canadian woman and fourth woman doctor in the world of Icelandic descent. The first was Steinunn Johannesdottir (Later Steinunn Alice Hayes), who obtained her MD from Los Angeles in 1902. In Iceland, Kristin Olafsdottir, born 21 November 1889, graduated from Reykjavik in 1917, and Katrin Thoroddsen born 7 July 1896 (and died in 1974) got her degree in 1921.