This Week in History


A Pioneer of Women's University Education

This story was initially published in 2000

On May 25, 1875, Grace Annie Lockhart received her Bachelor of Science and English Literature from Mount Allison College, becoming the first woman in the British Empire to earn a university degree.

Grace Annie Lockhart

Grace Annie Lockhart
© Mount Allison University Archives / 000 063

Lockhart was born on February 22, 1855 in Saint John, New Brunswick. At the age of 16, she entered the Ladies Academy and, in 1874, obtained her Mistress of Liberal Arts. This degree, previously called the Token of Merit, was given to women who had completed a level of education equivalent to two years of university. Lockhart's next achievement would take place at Mount Allison College.

The College was founded in Sackville, New Brunswick, to provide a complete university program to men and to train Methodist ministers. But due to low enrollment and universities in the United States accepting women, Mount Allison opened its doors to both sexes in 1872. It decided that women could receive university degrees, just as did the male students. In 1874, Lockhart registered at Mount Allison College thus becoming the first women to be admitted to a Canadian university on the same terms as a man. One year later, on May 25, 1875, she received her Bachelor of Science and English Literature marking the first time a woman in the entire British Empire had earned a university degree!

View of Mount Allison Wesleyan College and Academis<br>Sackville, NB, 1872

View of Mount Allison Wesleyan College and Academies,
Sackville, NB, 1872

© J.R. Woodburn, Photographer/J. W. Gray, Artist
Mount Allison University Archives/000 034

Today, the Charter of Human Rights ensures everyone's right to a university education. In the 19th century, however, most universities in the British Empire, like Mount Allison College until 1872, were male-only institutions. This prevented women from gaining access to a higher education and most professions. The prevalent belief that a women's role was guardian of the home and family justified these exclusions.

Lockhart's feat defined her as a pioneer of women's university education and provided clear evidence that women could compete with men on any level, including academic. In 1993, the Minister of Canadian Heritage commemorated Grace Annie Lockhart for her role in the emerging women's rights movement with a federal plaque at Mount Allison University, in Sackville, New Brunswick.

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