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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Whose food science research earned her a listing in "American Men in Science" in the 1920s?

Answer Associate professor Clara Benson taught in the Faculty of Household Science and was one of the University of Toronto's first women professors.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

Chancellor Burwash of Victoria College had proposed the establishment of the household science degree to the senate. To Burwash, the course "would help a young woman to put every department of the home of which she should become mistress on a thoroughly scientific basis.

A "true woman," many then thought, should remain in the home. Clara Benson did not agree. "

"This is the first course," he wrote the minister of education, "for a true woman's life in our university."

A "true woman," many then thought, should remain in the home. Clara Benson did not agree. In 1902, she had signed a petition organized by the Women's Alumnae Association of University College questioning the introduction of such a course in the University. Nevertheless, faced with limited job opportunities, she became a demonstrator in food chemistry the following year. The appointment required her to switch from physical chemistry to physiological chemistry. A.B. Macallum now became her mentor and coached her in her new discipline. When the teaching of food chemistry was transferred to the medical building, she became a lecturer in Macallum's department of physiology, the first woman in the University above the rank of demonstrator.

Annie Laird
Annie Laird,
circa 1930

In 1906, following the report of the royal commission, the faculty of household science was established. Benson became an associate professor of physiological chemistry in the new faculty. She and the principal, Annie Laird, were the first women professors at the University. But Benson publicly acknowledged her place in the hierarchy existing at the time by stating in an article in the U of T Monthly in 1907 that the household science program could be an "unqualified success ... under the direction of able men."

In 1912, an impressive neoclassical building, still standing at the corner of Queen's Park and Bloor Street (now the home of Ontario's Ombudsman and Club Monaco), was erected with additional funds amounting to half a million dollars from Lillian Massey Treble. Benson continued her research in food science. Her research record was sufficiently strong to earn her a listing in American Men of Science. By 1928, 30 women had received PhDs from the University of Toronto, 28 of them in the sciences.

household science building
The household science building at the corner of Bloor Street and Queen's Park, completed in 1912. The gates were subsequently moved to form the entryway to Philosopher's Walk at Bloor Street.

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