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.
question of the co-education of the sexes in Colleges," stated
an article on the front page of the inaugural issue of the Varsity
in 1880, "is still a vexed one and some time must elapse before
it can be regarded as finally disposed of." The Varsity
- "A Weekly Review of Education, University Politics and Events"
- which was run by both graduates and undergraduates, played an important
role in shaping opinion in the debate on the admission of women.
article, strongly in favour of co-education, was written by William
Houston, an 1872 graduate who had been a reporter for the Globe
and other papers. "It is only a question of time," he wrote,
"when female under-graduates will be knocking at the door of University
College for admission." He ended the article with a somewhat unappealing
image: "Let a few young ladies muster courage to break the ice
and they will soon find a numerous troop plunging in after them and
the young gentlemen generously applauding their intrepidity."
When she predicted
that "these university doors will open some day to women,"
McCaul, according to Stowe, answered "with some vehemence":
"Never in my day Madam!
there was nothing in the University of Toronto Act specifically excluding
women, they were not admitted to University College. President John
McCaul certainly did not favour their admission. Emily Stowe, later
to be the first Canadian woman licensed to practise medicine, sought
to take classes at University College in chemistry and physiology in
1869, but her request was denied by the senate. McCaul conveyed the
decision to her. When she predicted that "these university doors
will open some day to women," McCaul, according to Stowe, answered
"with some vehemence": "Never in my day Madam!"
Houston, MA, 1874
the first major issues President Daniel Wilson had to face was that
of the admission of women. Houston's article appeared the week after
Wilson took office on October 1, 1880. Women were starting to enter
the professions, particularly the teaching profession. For the most
part, one needed a university degree in order to teach high school.
"Without a University training," Houston wrote, ''they cannot
take charge of High Schools or become even acceptable assistants in
them." Wilson noted in his diary in February 1882: "A deputation
of ladies - strong minded - bent on having the college thrown open to
women. Parliament to be appealed to, etc. etc."
Stowe Gullen, a graduate of Victoria's medical school in 1883.
was most probably from the Toronto Women's Literary Club, founded in
1877 by the physician Emily Stowe. The club, which later reconstituted
itself as the Canadian Women's Suffrage Association, had approached
the university senate several years earlier, seeking to have it allow
women to write university entrance examinations, "identifying papers
by numbers instead of names." The senate gave permission for women
to write examinations in localities with a sufficient number of female
candidates, provided there was a local committee to supervise the exams
(to be held in June at the same time that male candidates wrote the
exams in Toronto), pay all costs, and provide suitable accommodation,
and provided also that "the questions should be precisely the same
as those proposed to male candidates in the same subject."
While the first women
students were admitted in 1884, women would not get their own gymnasium
until the Benson Building was constructed, almost eighty years later,
first women students were admitted in 1884, women would not get their
own gymnasium until the Benson Building was constructed, almost eighty
years later, in 1959. But they did obtain a playing field, at the corner
of Queen's Park and Bloor Street, for the "Ladies Tennis Club,"
founded in 1893, and the use of the East Hall of University College
for the "Women's Fencing Club," founded in 1895.
Daniel Wilson would not permit co-educational sports activities, but
after his death in 1892 a number of co-educational sports events began
to take place, such as mixed doubles in tennis; and there were recreational
ice-skating rinks from 1896 and a co-educational golf club in 1898.
The golf club obtained permission to play throughout the university
property, and within a year a thirteen-hole course ranged over the northern
end of the University. Wilson would not have been pleased. Clara Benson,
after whom the 1959 women's gymnasium would be named, was a member of
both the golf and the tennis club as an undergraduate in the 1890s.
graduated from U of T in the spring of 1885. Three of them were among
the group of women who had attended lectures in 1884-5, including Ella
Gardiner, who later became principal of Albert College in Belleville.
The other two graduates were the Brown sisters -- daughters of the Globe
publisher George Brown --who had chosen to complete their education
with private tutors and after graduation returned with their family
of the women who graduated from University College in 1885, members
of the first graduating class that included women: from left to
right, Margaret Langley, May Bell Bald, and Ella Gardiner. Two
daughters of the Globe publisher George Brown, Margaret
and Catherine, also graduated in 1885, but their pictures were
not included in the composite.
graduated the following year and later taught at Harbord Collegiate.
Nellie Spence, also in the first class, graduated in 1889 and became
head of English and history at Parkdale Collegiate. Henrietta Charles,
who had passed the entrance exams in 1879, did not graduate until 1888,
having interrupted her studies to teach in Ottawa. She later taught
mathematics at Humberside Collegiate. All three remained single. Both
Balmer and Spence became members of the university senate, and in 1937,
Spence received an honorary doctorate from the University.
particularly the teaching of modern languages and English in high schools,
would be the path chosen by many of the early women graduates. By the
beginning of the First World War, 87 per cent of the students studying
modern languages and 64 per cent of those studying English at University
College were women. The number of women attending the University increased
significantly over the years. By 1892, there were more than a hundred
in arts, and this number doubled over each of the next two decades.
admission in 1884, women students became an increasingly important part
of university life. It would be another three-quarters of a century,
however, before more than a handful of women would become tenured members
of the faculty.
hockey, circa 1910