Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The First McGill Woman Graduates and their LImited Career Options

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A drawing of a bluebell from Flora Nicholson's 1911 Macdonald College Portfolio from her Nature Diary. Flora went to normal  school on a scholarship that was given to any eligible country girl who wanted to become a teacher. There was an immigration boom in Canada, you see, precipitating both a rural problem and a city problem in education.
Flora  didn't have a fine room like the Donaldas of McGill, in a 'great ladies hotel' that was the Royal Victoria College, but Macdonald College was brand new in 1911 so no doubt the residences were fine.
And Flora was afforded more freedom than her Donalda counterparts who weren't allowed to leave the RVC campus without a chaperon. Flora went on walks and picnics in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. She writes about them in her letters home.
Her year at Macdonald is chronicled in Threshold Girl.
As I started my story Sister Salvation about suffragists in Montreal,  I went online to look at some McGill yearbooks for the 1910 era.
My two protagonists are Royal Victoria College students who try to start a suffrage parade in Montreal and get into trouble.
I want to make their lives realistic.
You can find everything online these days, of course,  including pictures of the interior of RVC and an architecture thesis that describes "The Great Ladies Hotel" in minute detail.
I had a little trouble finding a calendar to see what courses these girls took. (No calendars on in the McGill online archives.)
But I eventual found a description on Google Scholar.
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It was claimed the women took the exact same course as the men and that why it was so unfair that upon graduation there was only one profession open to them: teaching.

(And you didn't need a college degree to teach; you could go to Normal School like Flora or, like Edith Nicholson, teach without a diploma - although that was getting harder and harder to do... At bottom you will find a Nicholson clipping where Macdonald College Teachers School begs rural commissioners to hire their graduates.)
A college degree meant you could become a principal of a school but male teachers without a degree were routinely appointed principal because  there were so few of them.
So, an Arts degree back then  got men into the professions. Not the women.
This reality  apparently had an influence on the curriculum. Women took more English and modern language courses because that is what they needed to teach in school. 
So McGill started putting more English and modern language courses into the Arts Curriculum and so was born the modern 'arts curriculum'.
In 1911, the arts curriculum included geology and botany, even physics. One of the McGill yearbooks for the 1910 era has a picture of female students rock-picking in  Rigaud near where I live.
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Donaldas at Rigaud
This fact presented a problem to McGill Administrators who didn't want first and second year women students leaving RVC to mix with the men.
Labs couldn't be replicated just for women at RVC, too costly, so they had to do just that.
I'll put this in my story.
(A classic little blurb about the Donaldas in one of the early McGill yearbooks has the pioneering female students claiming their favorite pastime at McGill was mixing with the men students, so there you go. Great granny was no different from you and me, great great granny just wanted her to be.)
 I'll put the lab bit in my story because  Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association from 1913-1919, was a Botany Professor who was forced to give labs even when finally appointed full professor in 1912. (Her story will be intertwined in the other RVC story.)
In 1911, Flora Nicholson, was attending Macdonald Teachers College in Ste. Anne de Bellevue on a scholarship. Montreal was in dire need of teachers. It cost Flora only 40.00 a month for board to go to school and this cost was covered by her sister and father.
I know exactly what classes she took, she mentioned it in her letters home. And I have her 'portfolio'...It's all in my e-book Threshold Girl
I will weave the contrasting story of Flora into this story (tentatively called Sister Salvation). 
In October 1911, Flora writes to her dad and says, "I think I will take up public speaking and become a suffragette."
This is the first mention of 'suffragette" I read in the Nicholson letters when I first found them in 2004.
I didn't know this line would lead to so much. I am an essentially expert in the Montreal Suffrage Movement right now.
In a November 1911 letter, Margaret mentions she is keeping up with the news of the suffragettes in the papers.
She is referring to this:suffragettes doing
This timeline fits in my story, which starts in September 1911 and ends in May 1913.

A bit from a May 1912 letter from Macdonald Teachers College  about Flora's exams
Our exams are in full swing; tomorrow we have Composition and Writing, Wednesday Theory and Practice of Education, and Thursday Geometry and Manual Training. So you see we are pretty busy. The exams so far have been quite hard, Algebra especially, but when you think what a crazy piece set the exam you don't wonder
The 1912 McGill Yearbook does not contain a picture of the Macdonald Teachers School class.  There's only a picture of the graduating class of the Domestic Science girls. Hmm. Too bad, I'd like to see Flora with her fellow students.