Give me a W!

The women's intercollegiate hockey team, 1926.
The women's intercollegiate hockey team, 1926.

And then an o-m-a-n. That’s right, woman! March 8th is International Women’s Day. And there has never been a better time to celebrate our presence on campus.

The long history of female progression within the university hierarchy is a great story. Here’s some women’s U of T trivia to put in your back pocket and pull out when you want to impress others with your handle on the history of women at U of T.

In 1875, Grace Annie Lockhart became the first woman in the British Empire to earn a Bachelor’s Degree at Mount Allison College in Sackville, New Brunswick. Trailblazers like Lockhart became inspirations for other Canadian women who wanted a higher education. Here at the University of Toronto, the late 1800s saw notable female figures carving new paths for women on campus.

Clara Benson, whose name was given to the first female athletic centre on campus, was one of the female students from the late 19th century who pushed the boundaries and accomplished great things. During her undergraduate years, Benson championed co-ed sports on campus and was a member of the first co-ed team (golf). And here's a fun piece of trivia: in the late 1800s there was a 13-hole golf course that ran throughout the university grounds from Bloor to College.

The University of Toronto was the first school to produce a female graduate in Law. In 1897, Clara Brett Martin graduated and became the first female barrister in the British Empire. It is impossible to imagine how difficult it must have been for Martin to succeed as such a minority. Her words encapsulate this much more eloquently than mine ever could:

"If it were not that I set out to open the way to the bar for others of my sex, I would have given up the effort long ago. You would not believe how many obstacles I have had to overcome single-handed." -Clara Brett Martin 1899 (1874 - 1923)

(quoted from

As women, we owe these pioneers our greatest gratitude. International Women’s Day is a forum to impart this history and knowledge to current students. This is an important piece of history that all female students should be aware of. It was not that long ago, only just over a century, that women were the unwelcome minority on campus. An examination of the progress women have made within the university can serve as inspiration for groups that are still being marginalized.

The Status of Women Office is organizing many of the events on campus for International Women’s Day. There are events occurring on campus and throughout the city, from theatre to lectures, there is an event for every woman and man (who of course are welcome to attend).

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Hart House Circle, you can participate in a Chalk Chase! Presented by Hart House and the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, this is one of the first sports played by women on campus. From the description, I would describe this is an elaborate game of tag, with hints of hide and go seek.  It sounds like it will be a blast! The Department of Physical Education has a list of “active” events for Women’s Day.

Happy International Women's Day!


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