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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Which law school produced the first woman barrister in the British Empire?

Answer Shortly after its founding in 1889, the University of Toronto Faculty of Law graduated legal trail blazer Clara Brett Martin as well as future Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

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.

On January 10, 1889, an order in council was approved, permitting the establishment of a law faculty at the University. The university law course attracted only a handful of LLB students each year - the graduates included Chief Justice Lyman Duff, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and Clara Brett Martin, the first woman barrister in the British Empire. Many arts students, however, took individual law courses as part of their BA.

Lyman Duff
Lyman Duff

In 1903, an LLM was introduced. The LLB program could not compete with Osgoode Hall Law School, and Toronto therefore had a very small undergraduate body in comparison with the hundreds at Osgoode Hall Law School. The University's LLB graduates still had to spend three years at Osgoode before they could practise. The 1906 royal commission recommended that arrangements be made with the Law Society to avoid duplication of work, but once again the Law Society was not interested.

There was continuing tension between those who advocated the teaching of law as an academic discipline and those who advocated practical on-the-job training. It was not until 1957 that the Law Society would give up its monopoly on professional legal education in the province.

pharmacy building
The pharmacy building on Gerrard Street East, constructed in 1887 and since then demolished; pharmacy did not move to the campus until 1963.

Other professions, however, such as dentistry and pharmacy, valued their association with the University. As the historians of education R.D. Gidney and W.P.J. Millar state, "in social terms lawyers had the least to gain from a university professional school and would be the least tainted by establishing one of their own, independent of the universities."

Dentists, however, were eager to improve their status and prestige. Many dentists, for example, found it embarrassing that 8-by-12 foot advertisements emphasizing cheap dentistry could be found on all major roads entering Toronto. A university affiliation would certainly make dentistry seem more of a learned profession, just as would the decision taken by the college of dentistry to make Latin an entrance requirement.

Dentists, however, were eager to improve their status and prestige.

The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario had been running its own school since 1875. In 1888, it affiliated with the University. Some of the science courses could now be taught by the University. The college still ran the dentistry program, which increased in length from two to three years in 1890 and was responsible for all aspects of the college, including the awarding of licences to practise; but a student could also take the prescribed university exams and be awarded a doctor of dental surgery degree. In 1889, 25 students received the degree, the first such awarded in Canada.

The college of dentistry moved closer to the University, opening a new dental school in 1896 on the south side of College Street, east of University Avenue. In 1903, the length of the course was increased from three to four years. The college was forced once again to move to a new location when, in 1907, its property was purchased by the Toronto General Hospital, which planned to move from its east-end location to a site closer to the University.

In 1910, the college of dentistry opened a five-storey building on the north-east corner of College and Huron streets, now occupied by the faculty of architecture. One can still see clearly the word "Infirmary" above the Huron Street entrance, and - though they are difficult to make out - the words "Royal College of Dental Surgeons" over the College Street entrance.

dentistry building
The dentistry building on the north side of College Street at Huron Street, now the building of the faculty of architecture.

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