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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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At what time of day in 1954 could women enter the newly co-educational Arbor Room in U of T's Hart House?

Answer Women were allowed in at 3 p.m.; until then, the former basement billiard room was reserved for men. Women became full members of Hart House in 1972.

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.

The Hart House Founders' Prayer refers to the "conversation of wise and earnest men." In the early years of the House, women were not admitted on equal terms with men. Some concessions were made. A number of designated concerts were open to women. Women's organizations were refused space. The women of the University of Toronto Swimming Club could not use the Hart House pool, and women faculty members could not use the faculty club while it was in Hart House.

One significant innovation was made in 1954 by Hart House Warden Joseph McCulley, who had been appointed in 1952 after Nicholas Ignatieff died suddenly. The former billiard room in the basement was transformed into the co-educational Arbor Room. The first permanent women students' washroom was installed in Hart House, and a new outside entrance was constructed in the south wall of the building.

The possibility of opening Hart House to women only came after Vincent Massey's death.

President Smith and Chancellor Beatty and their wives cut the ceremonial tape, and roses were given to the first two hundred women to enter the room. Women could not enter until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, however; until then it was reserved for men. They could also come as guests to the 150-acre Hart House farm in the Caledon Hills, purchased in 1949. Warden McCulley, who had been head of Pickering College and then deputy commissioner of penitentiaries, wanted to keep the House itself as essentially a male preserve. So did Vincent Massey, then the governor general of Canada.

It was not until the appointment of a new warden, Arnold Wilkinson, and after Massey's death that women became full members of the House. President Claude Bissell recorded in his diary in 1968 "the possibility now, with Vincent Massey's death, of opening Hart House to women." He appointed a committee, which so recommended, and on January 27, 1972 the university board of governors approved a recommendation that women be admitted to the House on the same terms as male students.

Women had always taken part in Hart House Theatre, which was administered separately from Hart House. The theatre, used only sporadically since 1937, was revived after the war.

Robert Gill, an American actor with academic credentials, was brought in to run the program for students. The theatre would in large measure be used for student productions, unlike in the pre-war years, when it was used mainly by amateur and semi-professional actors.

Donald Sutherland , fourth from right, in the 1956 Hart House production of Molière's School for Wives

The first production in 1947 was Shaw's Saint Joan, with Charmion King in the title role. "Her performance of Joan," the Globe and Mail critic wrote the following morning, "is a luminous portrayal, instinct with an inner fire of truth and spiritual beauty, and exquisite in its shadings of emotion and execution."

"We used to sell out pretty well every performance" of the student productions, said the theatre manager Jimmy Hozack. When Gill died in 1974, a memorial service in the theatre included a reading of Saint Joan by some of those who had taken part in the first production - Charmion King, David Gardner, Donald and Murray Davis, and Eric House.

Many now well known actors and directors in addition to those in Saint Joan worked under Gill's direction, including Frances Hyland, Leon Major, Kate Reid, and Donald Sutherland. Many who worked with him went on to Stratford when it opened in 1953. As for women in Hart House, recent documents have rephrased the words "conversation of wise and earnest men" as "the conversation of the wise and the earnest."

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