Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Worry Upon the Opening of McGill's Royal Victoria Women's College

Ethel Hurlbatt, British-born Warden of McGil's RVC women's college in early part of the 20th century. From McGill Archives.


I've written a great deal about McGill's Royal Victoria College on this blog.

Much of the information I used comes from a trio of McGill theses and Margaret Gillett's book, We Walked Very Warily, about McGill's women pioneers.

Indeed, for my ebook Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal in 1911/12, I created two fictional characters who are RVC co-eds. And, I describe the workings of the college in some detail.

 Ethel Hurlbatt, Warden of the Royal Victoria College and a fan of  Emmeline Pankhurst, is a key character in my ebook, as well.

I lately happened upon an odd, little publication on Google.

It's the Metropolitain, a short lived, late-Victorian era tabloid aimed at Montreal's English elite, much like the even shorter-lived Saturday Mirror from 1913.

Right away, I stumbled upon an interesting editorial about the Dreyfus Affair, where the French are described as mercurial. But another editorial from 1897 really caught my eye.


This editorial, commenting on the brand new Royal Victoria Women's College at McGill, does not question the value of women's education or mock women's intellectual ability.

 All the writer wonders about is whether there will be jobs for these mostly middle class women graduates.

As it happened, there were  jobs for many of  the RVC graduates. Well, only ONE job, really: teaching.


Tennis team RVC. Tennis was the first club created by the Co-Eds,  a tool to meet men and to strengthen the body against over studying.


The immigration boom  of 1910-13 and post WWI immigration created a constant need for new teachers in the era, since married women weren't allowed to work.

You didn't need a college degree to be a teacher, just a diploma, but if you had a college degree you could become a Principal almost immediately.

My ebook Threshold Girl, based on real letters from the 1910 period, covers that issue. Threshold Girl is about 3 women teachers, my husband's ancestors, working in the poorer areas of Montreal.

(As it happens, a hell of a lot happened technologically between 1897 and 1913; the auto, motion pictures, Marconi's wireless, and mass immigration to Canada enabled by a new hardy strain of wheat, Marquis; that provoked a paradigm shift in the ways Canadians thought and felt about the world.)


The Metropolitain 
September 11,1897,



The Royal Victoria College for Women, the splendid gift of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, rapidly approaches completion.

This institution will mark a new departure in the education of our girls.

Whether the results will be all that will be expected may be fairly open to doubt.

We can hardly be said to have a leisured class in Canada.

We are all working, in one form or another, for a living.

We are working, industrious people concerned with the practical problems of life.

Most of our young girls, after receiving an ordinary education, are expected to provide for themselves in life.

I do not suppose that 3 percent of our population can afford to keep their daughters at home, leading the lives of ladies with nothing more serious to do than dress and engage in the social functions of local society.

We do not doubt that many parents will make a supreme effort to send their daughters to Royal Victoria college when it is opened.

The institution will give a course of instruction equal to that of Arts at McGill University

In the case of rich parents, there will be the pleasant feeling that their daughter has been rendered thoroughly fit for the station that she will inhabit as head of an establishment of her own in the course of time.

But the rich girls will be as scarce as can be imagined and what may be expected in the case of 99 out of 100 girls who, though educated with broadened notions of life, with fastidious tastes, with larger demands nurtured by genteel companionship, leave the college to take their place in life?

We are an agriculture and industrious people.

Our girls find ready employment at manual forms of labour.

We provide a little clerical work for them, but this is grudgingly given.

What field is there in Canada for the hundreds of bright young intellects being  turned out of the Royal Victoria College from time to time?

(And the article goes on in this vein for many more paragraphs: What work for these elevated ladies of the middle class?)