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Grace Annie Lockhart

June 2, 2004

Education for women in the nineteenth-century Canada was, well, minimal. The duties of a woman lay not in the public forum, but a home. In the latter part of the century, however, some young women -- those of more wealthy families especially -- could attend private academies, convent schools, collegiate institutes, or high schools. Training at these establishments would have given them a good dose of literary study as well as extensive embroidery instruction, but no preparation for continued studies. University education was reserved for men.

Mount Allison Academy in Sackville, New Brunswick, was established initially for Methodist men, but in 1854, the school opened the first and only college for women in Canada. This seemed a natural evolution, as colleges for women had already been established in the United States. Upon completion of studies at Mount Allison Academy for Females, students received what was first called the Token of Merit and later named the MLA -- Mistress of Liberal Arts.

Until 1862, the MLA marked the end of a woman's education. No universities in Canada, nor anywhere in the British Empire, had ever admitted women to their student body. But in that year, a shift was made: women were allowed access to Mount Allison University after their college studies, the MLA being considered the equivalent of about two years of university. The catch? None of these women graduated -- university degrees were earned by men, not women.

Enter Dr. James R. Inch. Principal of the ladies' college, Inch declared at the 1872 convocation exercises, with the support of the proper authorities, that bachelor and master degrees would be awarded "without distinction of sex." He believed women as students were just as capable as men in their studies -- a notion slowly gaining popularity in academic circles. While attitudes toward women were indeed becoming more progressive, it is quite possible that Mount Allison's financial struggles in 1872 also spurred the admission of women to the school. Admitting women would have given the school a chance to raise enrollment numbers as well as promote endowment: advocates of Mount Allison could cite the innovative policy when asking for donations.

However spawned, the new policy opened the door to university education for Canadian women. The first to take advantage of this was Grace Annie Lockhart (1855 - 1916). A native of Saint John, Lockhart completed most of her courses while enrolled at the ladies' academy, and attended the university in her last year of studies, graduating in 1875. Lockhart went on to teach school in her hometown. In 1881, she married Mount Allison classmate John L. Dawson, a Methodist minister, and participated in much church-related work. The two had three sons, all who attended their parents' alma mater.

On the heels of Lockhart's academic achievement came several others: Queen's University awarded its first degree to a woman in 1878, Dalhousie in 1881, and McMaster and University College in Toronto in 1884. Eventually, women from all over the country could earn university degrees.

From The Beaver:Canada's History Magazine, April/May2004. The photograph is from the Mount Allison University Archives (#000 063).

More to Consider

Canada has an enviable record for the education of women, and for the higher education of women. Those of us who have the benefit of education need to reflect on the fact, and act on the fact, that girls in other parts of the world are still fighting for education that is critical to them and to their communities.

In many countries, education is not free (school fees often are required by World Bank-led economic reform packages, and foreign aid has decreased. An article by Somini Senupta in The New York Times International (December 14, 2003) states:

"In societies where girls are considered unworthy of the investment, many poor parents pay for their sons, not their daughters to go to school. Girls are put to work, helping their mothers fetch water and firewood, caring for younger siblings, sweeping and cooking. Persuading mothers to send daughters to school is often a formidable practical challenge. In some places, nurseries have been set up to relieve young girls of baby-sitting chores; in others, wells have been installed close to schools to save the girls from long walks."

The article does not point out, as the UN has, that some 70% of the world's work is done by women - societal pressures put on mothers create pressures for daughters.

According to a studies released in late 2003 by UNESCO and UNICEF, around the world 83% of boys attended school between 1996 and 2002, but only 79% of girls, and the proportions can vary widely from country to country. In Latin America and the Caribbean, and in East Asia and the Pacific, the percentages for both boys and girls exceed 90%.

In South Asia, it was 77% for boys and 78% for girls. In the Middle East and North Africa, the percentages are 81% for boys, 75% for girls. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it was 62% for boys, 57% for girls.

The United Nations has reaching gender parity as a principal goal, as fundamental as reducing infant mortality and reducing hunger.

Lockhart was born in 1855 and died in 1916.

Resources in this story


For more information on Grace Annie Lockhart's time at Mount Allison, see John G. Reid, Mount Allison University: A History to 1963, Vol. 1:1843-1914 (University of Toronto, 1984), pp. 118-121.

This feature was first published on's predecessor site CoolWomen.


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