1939 Fredericton Encaenia

Alumni Oration

Delivered by: Sterling, Mabel


"Woman’s Love for Family Inspired Ideal of Higher Education for Province"  The Daily Gleaner (18 May 1939): 8. (UA Case 67a, Box 2)

A Loyalist Mother

Over one hundred and fifty years ago the first step towards the establishment of the University of New Brunswick was taken, the idea originated in the cultured mind s of our Loyalist forefathers. A mother’s love was the inspiration to which we owe its foundation and to this mother goes the honor of conceiving the ideal of a Provincial Seminary – the foundation of Higher Education in New Brunswick.

Among the Loyalists of 1783 were Dr. Wm Paine, his wife and a family of boys. Mrs. Paine, naturally was desirous of an education for her children beyond that which the home might furnish and the result was that in 1785, Dr. Paine, himself a graduate of Harvard, and six other farseeing and enlightened Loyalists presented a memorial to the government asking for an endowment to start "an academy of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Fredericksburg." This was the first step in the establishment of our Alma Mater. The memorial hangs on the wall of the Archives Room in the Library and is called "the germ of the University of New Brunswick."

The government acceded to the Loyalist’s request and in 1786 two thousand acres of land were reserved for the use of an Academy and later an annual sum not exceeding £200 was allowed to assist in the erection of suitable buildings, so first we have the Collegiate School, then the College of New Brunswick, which changed to King’s College and later to the University of New Brunswick.

Sir Howard Douglas

On New Year’s Day, 1829, King’s College was formally opened and Sir Howard Douglas installed as first Chancellor. One paragraph of his address on that occasion has continued to be an inspiration "Firm may this institution ever stand and flourish, firm in the liberal constitution and Royal foundation on which I have this day instituted it – enlarging and extending its material form and all its capacity to do good, to meet the increasing demands of a rising, prosperous and intellectual people; and may it soon acquire and ever maintain a high and distinguished reputation as a place of general learning and useful knowledge."

My purpose today however is not to give the history of the University, but the history of women, their entrance and advancement during the years that have been privileged to attend.

Early Efforts

During the early says of King’s College women evidently were anxious to enjoy its educational advantages as in a letter of Dr. Robb’s to his mother in Glasgow under date of November 1st, 1837, we read "Next term (January) I begin a course of chemistry and according to report I am to have many of the respectable townspeople as students. Strange to say the Ladies of Fredericton are clamoring to be of the number. But of course I give no encouragement to the proposal. The Archdeacon’s wife represented the thing very strongly to me and will hardly take a denial. This however would be derogatory, and lectures to regular students of a college must be very difficult from those delivered to schools of Arts and Mechanical Institutions."

In Dr. Jack’s Encaenial address in 1870 he makes reference to the higher education of women in the following words "The work done at the Collegiate School or Academy in Fredericton ought in common fairness to be taken into account as it forms in reality a part of the work of the University. Looking at the subject from this point of view it will be seen that within the year 1869 the total number of students that attended the University establishment amounted to 166" (111 in the Collegiate School and 55 in the University). "This very respectable number would be considerably increased could we succeed in connecting with the institution a College or Academy for higher training of females. An object so truly desirable could, I think, be readily effected if the good people of Fredericton would wake from their apathy to a due sense of their deep interest in this important matter."

The awakening hoped for by Dr. Jack came to a young woman, Mary Kingsley Tibbits, of our native city of Fredericton; a graduate of the Collegiate School. (The High and Grammar Schools of the Province had been opened to girls under the Free School Act of 1871).

A Live Question

In the early eighties the higher education of women was one of the very live questions of the day. Women’s Colleges were being founded and some of the established universities were becoming co-educational.

In 1880, when matriculation at our University opened to women, Dr. Jack made reference to the high place the two young women matriculating that year had taken, and again regretted they were denied university training. He felt the Faculty was too small to undertake separate lectures and was not quite convinced co-education was advisable.

In 1884 two of our Fredericton teachers went away for university education and Miss Tibbit’s mother, ambitious for her eldest daughter, decided that Mary too should go to college. In the autumn of that year mother and daughter journeyed to Boston, visited Wellesley College, Boston University and Harvard University Annex, which later became Radcliffe College. The heads of these institutions considered Mary too young, college girls should be at least sixteen.

Statute and Matriculation

As no diploma or certificate was given in those days when one finished the high school many girls took the matriculation examinations. During the summer of 1885, Miss Tibbits, quite by chance, began reading the statutes of New Brunswick and was much interested to find that under the charter of the University of New Brunswick "any person" was eligible to attend. Legal talent gave the decision that Miss Tibbits was a person, and it was then decided that her college course had better be taken in Fredericton. In September matriculation was passed and when returns showed Miss Tibbits’ name in second place, tied with a young man, winner of the Charlotte County scholarship, she made application to attend the university and was refused. She then resumed her study of Greek under Bliss Carman as tutor.

To Senate Committee

Miss Tibbits’ application to enter the University was brought up in the University Senate, Thursday, November 19th, 1885.

"Moved by the Chief Justice, seconded by Mr. Crocket

'Resolved that the question of the admission of females to lectures in the University be referred to a Committee to report upon.'

The President, Chief Justice, Mr. Crocket and the Faculty of the University were appointed such Committee."

In the Legislature

During the ensuing Session of the Legislature when the grant for the University came up for discussion, Mr. John V. Ellis, member for Saint John, opposed the grant because the University has refused admission to a duly qualified student – one, Mary K. Tibbits. On March 11th, 1886 during the consideration of the University’s report in the Provincial Legislature Mr. Ellis asked "if there was any hope of the University being opened to young women," and Mr. McLeod replied "that he saw no reason why ladies should not have all the university privileges accorded to make students. The matter would again come before the Senate at its next annual meeting."

At that meeting "the Committee appointed by the Senate to report upon the question of the admission of females to lectures in the University, report, "That having considered the matter, as referred to them they are of opinion that females should be admitted to the privileges of the University on the same terms as men, Respectfully submitted, JOHN C. ALLEN, Chairman. Fredericton, 18 June, 1886.' Ordered that the Report be adopted."

At Length Admitted

And thus the full advantage of our University education opened for women, with all its glorious traditions. And in the Autumn of 1886 Mary Kingsley Tibbits entered the University as a student in Arts. The course then being a three-year one she graduated in 1889.
To Miss Tibbits we owe a debt of gratitude for pioneering the way for us and making possible co-education at UNB. At first, to put it mildly, the young me were quite antagonistic to her being here and, if half the stories told of their reception of her are true, a less valiant spirit would have fallen by the wayside but not Mary K.

Dr. Harrison in his report of the University in 1886 made this comment "What was formerly looked upon as a radical innovation is now treated as a mater of course."

Gradual Increase

At first the number of women taking advantage of university education was small, although a few living in Fredericton took the opportunity to take special courses, French, English literature, and philosophy. But as early as 1893 we find a woman leading the class, this happened again in 1896 and ’98, and they have taken turns in doing this right down to the present time.

It must be difficult for the students of to-day to realize the difference in the way co-education was looked upon in the early days. The young women had to conduct themselves very circumspectly – the mere speaking to young man in the hall was frowned upon by the Chancellor and if found out called forth a severe rebuke.

Final Acceptance

It really was surprising though how quickly the men accepted us, in a very friendly spirit, after being lords of all creation for so long a time. As early as 1893 a woman was one of the editors on the University Monthly. The only open difference of opinion in "my day" was in the winter of 1894, when we wished public recognition in one of our chief social events of the year – the time-honored Con – As we were sharing the work of the preparation we conceived the idea of having one of our number on the invitation committee, which was then printed on the cards sent out. Feeling ran high for a time and finally the edict went for the from the Chancellor’s office "Co-Con or No-Con" and to our surprise there wasn’t a Con that year.

Modern Activities

From this time on women’s place in the University has shown steady growth, the equality we claimed back in the "nineties" is with us now. Their place in college life has grown with the times. Our Co-eds now have debates and basketball matches with other college teams. They take part, along with the young men in tennis matches, Model League of Assembly meetings, attend Student Christian Movement committees, on the editorial staff of the Brunswickian and Year Book, pay levies, in fact are just part of the student body, members of the Students Representative Council, which in itself is high tribute to the spirit of our Alma Mater.

The Alumnae

The Alumnae also have quite a different standing. At the University’s Centennial Celebration in 1900, the woman looked on – at the Reunions of 1923, ’25 and ’28 they were on the Committees of arrangement, and the dinner were joint, as they have been ever since on special occasions.

Our women graduates in increasing number are taking post-graduate courses at our own and other universities where graduate scholarships and assistantships are open to them, several have studied abroad at Edinburgh, London, Rome and the Sorbonne. Many have taken M.A., M.Sc. and even Ph.D. We already have four holding the last degree.

The important positions held by our Alumnae to-day are most gratifying. In addition to the number in the teaching profession, in the Grade Schools, High Schools, Normal School and Colleges we also find lawyers, doctors, missionaries, many writers of books, short stories and magazine articles, one is co-author of a plane geometry, a text-book for High School Industrial departments, private secretaries business managers, a landscape gardener, assistants in Biological, Entomological and Chemical laboratories, and we even had one on our own Summer School Faculty.

Beginning of Society

On our class’ graduation in 1896 the Alumni invited us to join their society, there were then twenty-four women graduates. We stayed on the membership role of the Alumni until 1910 when we felt we could be of more service to the University by having our own society. This was organized on April 26th, that year. By this time there were eighty-one women graduates, with this year’s class we will be just short of four hundred. Our Society’s next forward step was incorporation in 1919 and an amendment to the University Act permitting us to elect two members as our representatives on the Senate.

In 1924 we broadened our scope by joining the Canadian Federation of University Women, this also automatically makes us members of the International Federation, and opens to all our graduates the privileges of National and International Scholarships and Club Houses. We have had UNB delegates at both the Executive and Triennial meeting of the Canadian Federation, and have has the pleasure of having the National President as our honor guest every three years.

Since its inception the object of our society has been "To promote, directly and indirectly, the educational and financial interests of the University especially as such interests relate and are related to the lady graduates and undergraduates of the University." For the past ten years we have felt that its best interests are being neglected by not having a Women’s Residence, High School teachers, throughout the Province tell us of the fine students we lose every year by its absence, and we feel strongly that the time for another step in advance – the Women’s Residence. This is our goal and we sincerely hope we may soon see the realization of our vision.

Tribute to Miss Tibbits

In closing may I express the appreciation of our Society to the Alumni for he courtesy extended in having the honor of giving this address, and to the Senate for recognizing the fiftieth anniversary of our first woman’s graduation by giving her the highest honor it can bestow, an Honorary LL.D. I thank you.

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