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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What extracurricular activities at the University of Toronto were forbidden until 1892?

Answer By presidential decree, co-educational sports were not allowed. But by 1899, the co-ed golf club was playing on a 13-hole campus course. Today U of T has thousands of courses, but no golf course.

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.

Women would not get their own gymnasium until the Benson Building was constructed 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.

Clara Benson
Clara Benson, 1899

President 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.

Five women 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, who had chosen to complete their education with private tutors and after graduation returned with their family to Scotland.

1885 UC female graduands
Three 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.

Eliza Balmer 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.

Teaching, particularly the teaching of modern languages and English in high
schools, would be the path chosen by many of the early women graduates."

Teaching, 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.

After their 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.

1926 women's hockey team
The women's intercollegiate hockey team, 1926. Marion Hilliard, later, a well-known medical doctor at Women's College Hospital, is second from the right.

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