This Week in History


"Take this Lamp of Learning..."

For the week of Monday September 26, 2011

On October 1, 1903, Annesley Hall in Toronto was officially opened as the first women’s residence at a Canadian university. It is one of the most well-preserved examples of Queen Anne Revival architecture, a popular style between the 1870s and the First World War. Annesley was designed by George M. Miller for the University of Toronto’s Victoria College, originally founded as the Upper Canada Academy by Wesleyan Methodists in 1836.

Annesley Hall’s stone trimmed exterior
and high rooflines, features typical of the
Queen Anne Revival style

© Parks Canada / J. Butterill / 1994

More than an architectural achievement, Annesley Hall was an important milestone in the struggle for women’s equality and access to education. It was named after Susanna Annesley Wesley (1669-1742), who firmly, but controversially, believed that women should receive a classical education. Known as the “mother of Methodism,” she inspired her son, John Wesley, to found the Methodist religious movement.

Prior to Annesley’s creation, only 14 of Victoria College’s 226 students were women. Although women were first allowed to attend university in the 1880s, institutions placed restrictions on what women could study. Furthermore, women students had to live in uncomfortable and unfamiliar boarding houses far from Victoria College. The opening of a women’s residence brought women closer to university studies, but it would be many years before they were treated equally in the classroom.

The entrance to Annesley Hall
© Parks Canada / J. Butterill /

How did Annesley Hall come to be? It all started when Margaret Burwash and women such as Lillian Massey founded the Barbara Heck Memorial Association in 1897 to support the cause for women students. Guided by Methodist teachings, these members tirelessly worked to establish merit-based scholarships for women and, after six years of collaboration with philanthropists, a women’s residence. Annesley Hall owes much to Hart Massey, Lillian’s father, an affluent businessman who left the Association $50,000 for the creation of a women’s residence.

Its first decade as a residence was met with an overwhelming number of requests from women students who sought the opportunity to live on campus as their male peers did. Daily life at the residence in the early 1900s was bound by Methodist ideas of “high moral tone.” In addition to their studies, the women prayed, practiced gymnastics to develop poise and co-ordination, and were taught etiquette during formal dinners. But they could look forward to Friday nights, when young men were invited to skate and a live band would perform. Much has changed since then.

Annesley Hall was designated a National Historic Site in 1990, and remains a women’s residence. Hart Almerrin Massey was designated a person of national historic significance in 1971 for his business savvy and philanthropy.

For more This Week in History stories about women achieving equality, visit: Women Are Persons ... Aren’t They?, Winnipeg Women Hold "Mock" Parliament and A Pioneer of Women’s University Education. For more information about Annesley Hall, please visit its entry at the Canadian Register of Historic Places web site.

Date Modified: