Western's Caucus on Women's Issues

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Timeline of Western's Women's Achievements

Women at Western have achieved notable successes in the fields of education, administration work, teaching, research, sports and social issues. Although incomplete, the following timeline highlights important dates and events which marked women's leadership and contributions within the university community and beyond.


1878 -1920   l  1921 - 1945  l   1946 - 1965  l  1966 - 1985   l   1986 - Present   Sources Consulted   l   Back to Caucus Timeline

1878 - 1920

Nearly 20 years after the establishment of UWO, the first young woman enters academic life at Western. Mary L. Cowan, was the first and many followed in her footsteps taking an active part in student life and activities. The inclusion of women lecturers was also evident with the growing female student population.


  • The University of Western Ontario is officially established.


  • Mary L. Cowan is admitted to Western. She is the first woman enrolled as a student.


  • Mary L. Cowan is the first woman to graduate from Western.


  • Susan M. Blackburn and Jessie Murdoch graduate from Western becoming the next women to graduate from Western in the Arts.


  • An issue of "In Cap and Gown" is created by female students.


  • Miss H. McMillan graduated in Arts, 1907. She goes to the University of Toronto's Medical School to become the first Western woman to take up Medicine.


  • Women's basketball is established.


  • Hilda Baynes is appointed a lecturing position in French.


  • War time enrolment is at an all time low. From 62 students enrolled, 45 are women. Until the later part of the century, this is the only time women students out-number male students.
  • Miss Mary Manly is the first Director of Athletics for women.


  • Marjorie Ross, a secretary to President Braithwaite, is sent to Library School and becomes the first trained librarian at Western.


  • Brescia College, formerly Ursuline College, begins its affiliation with Western. Classes start with seven young women.


  • Miss Margaret E. McDermid RN, directs Western's first graduate program in nursing.


1921 - 1945

In response to the increasing number of female students, the university offered more courses, likely to interest women, in the Arts curriculum. At the same time, the University hired more female faculty, and young ambitious female students earned degrees in areas which had once traditionally been male-dominated. During the war years, student life saw women taking an active leadership role in voluntary efforts aimed at supporting the war effort.


  • Dr. Madge Thurlow Macklin becomes the first woman to become a member of the Medical faculty.
  • Ethel Sullivan is appointed the first Medical School librarian.


  • Jessie McFarlane is the first woman to achieve an athletic letter. She is not awarded one because of her gender. McFarlane takes the requirements and fights for it. Eventually, McFarlane becomes a woman of distinction in education and a member of the Board of Governors.


  • The Brescia College sees its first seven graduates.


  • A degree of Bachelor of Science in Nursing is introduced.


  • Ruby C. Mason, is appointed Dean of Women and organizes the introduction of sororities to Western.
  • B.Sc in Nursing is awarded for the first time.
  • A course in secretarial sciences is instituted under Miss Margaret Thompson.


  • Women's basketball was awarded a two year intercollegiate trial period. They win the "Bronze Baby" and go on to win 15 more times.


  • Western's women's hockey takes to the ice for the first time.


  • The Undergraduate Women's Organization holds a "Leap Year" Co-ed Ball, the first of its kind where women had to pay for their dates. Written about for many years, it is an event dubbed as "topsy-turvy".



  • Dr. Olive J. Steward, first woman to win the Alpha Kappa Kappa Gold Medal, heads her class in all subjects in final examinations. She goes on to receive the J.B. Campbell Memorial Scholarship in Medicine.
  • Leola Neal is one of the first three students to earn an MA degree in Psychology at Western. She becomes the last Dean of Women in the 1970's.


  • Western Medicine has 232 registered students, 14 are women and one woman is enrolled as a freshman.


  • The earliest photo of Miss Western is recorded in Occidentalia. The crowning of a young Western woman becomes a campus tradition for many years.
  • The beginning of women on campus helping the war effort. The Undergraduate Women's Organization (a.k.a. Women's Council) engages in activities such as knitting garments for women and babies in Britain and hosting a Co-ed Prom to generate funds for war relief. These activities, and more, are a way for women at Western to help with Canada's war effort.


  • The Gazettee and Occidentalia sponsor a "Cover Girl" contest for Western's women. The three winners join a local photographer on a trip to New York. Of the three, Petra Coates, an Arts student, was considered by Hollywood for a role in "The Robe".


1946 - 1965

With the end of war, the University experienced a significant expansion of programs and facilities. Student life took on a new social flamboyance with annual “gala” events, which were marked by the crowning of young Western women. Gradually, women at Western found employment as Heads of Departments and at top administrative positions.


  • Gretta Wong, a UWO women's athlete and graduate, is the first Asian-Canadian woman called to the bar. She serves as the director of Ontario Legal Aid Plan for 20 years.

  • Norma Sybil McCreery is appointed head of the Department of Economics. She is the first woman to occupy the post.
  • The Powder Puff Pansies and the Lipstick Lilies attempt a football game that is first protested by parents and administration. In the end, the “Powder Puff Bowl” game commences with a successful turnout of spectators.
  • Dr. Helen Rossiter becomes the University's physicians. She holds this post until 1955.


  • A new Nursing School is established with Miss Edith McDowell appointed as its Dean.
  • Helen M.B. Allison, a western graduate, becomes registrar after being a member of the registrar’s staff for 23 years.


  • First women's Purple Blanket winner. The award is given to athletes who achieve national success.
  • After the Department of Psychology and Department of Philosophy are separated, Allison Johnson becomes the new head of Philosophy.


  • Spencer Hall is the first official women's residence at the university.


  • One year after the Business School is affiliated with Western, Catherine A. Laird and Marianne Schlegel graduate with HBA's. They are among 84 other Business School graduates pictured in Occidentalia.

  • Elfrida Berezins, director of women's physical education, set out to show the true physical abilities women possess. Many argue that she is responsible for the solid women's athletic program at Western. Berezins changes the way women's sports and physical education at Western are run and perceived. Prior to being hired at Western, she was a former Latvian Olympian.


  • Western's women's volleyball begins at a 13 year win streak.


  • Kay Easun (Miles) is the first woman "White Blanket" winner at UWO. She also is the first and only female Dr. Claude Brown trophy award winner, recognizing Western's top athlete. After this episode within Western's athletics, an award specifically for the top female athlete is established.


  • Choosing "Frosh Princesses" and crowning a "Frosh Queen" is added to frosh festivities.
  • Huron College's Department of English is set up by under the direction of Dr. Eleanor Jared.


  • Mary J. Wright is Chair of the Department of Psychology at Middlesex College. She becomes the first woman appointed Chair of an academic department at Western.
  • Catherine Ridley from the university's registrar's staff becomes registrar of Huron College.


  • Margaret A. Banks is the first Law Librarian.


  • The first female student graduates from the Law School.


  • Mary J. Wright heads the re-united Departments of Psychology.


  • Plans for a new women's residence have been awarded. The construction of Delaware Hall is divided into four houses, each named after a woman who contributed to Western. Dr. Ada Dorothy Turville, second Dean of Women and professor of French; Miss Kate M. Gillespie, assistant librarian from 1922 to 1961; Miss Olga Alice Miller of the registrar's office; and Miss Ruby Mason, first dean of women.



1966 - 1985

In greater numbers, female students were earning degrees from many different departments on campus. Similarly, faculty women were also entering departments, which had not yet included women. The social rise of feminism was noticeable on campus with women demanding equal pay and opportunity.


  • Faculty women are finally allowed to retire at 65 along with their male teaching counterparts. Prior to the administrative change, they were forced to retire at 60.

  • Ms. M. V. Wheeler graduates with a degree in mechanical engineering. She becomes the first woman to graduate from the Engineering school eight years after the school was established.

  • Miss Marion F. Wood is appointed the manager of the Talbot College theatre. She also becomes the co-ordinator of the university's theatres, including the one in Alumni Hall. Wood is responsible for enriching the cultural life at Western.


  • Dr. Margaret A. Banks, Law librarian, is given the ranks of assistant professor at the Law School. She becomes the first woman faculty member.


  • Diana Mary Priestly, a former Law librarian, is the first woman appointed full-time teaching faculty status at the Law School.

  • Anne Bolgan, English professor, threatens to sue Western for salary, promotion and entitlement to sabbatical leave disputes. She receives an undisclosed settlement from the University from what is believed to be the first gender-discrimination settlement


  • A student run organization sets up a Women's Centre. Women students can obtain free literature information and assistance on birth control, pregnancy and /or care of unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy tests, and the "morning after pill". The Centre is serviced by trained and interested students.


  • Students protest on behalf of Dr. Susan Hunter-Harvey in a contract dispute and barricade the Sociology Departments offices.

  • An Ad hoc Committee from the President's Advisory Committee on the status of women is established. The following year they release a report on the Status of Women at Western. Members of the committee included B. Campbell (chairperson), E. Bieman, G. Brent, S. Desmond, L. Forsyth and D. Nutt. This report addresses issues of Western's women not yet being full participants in the University's activities and that the same women on campus are at a serious disadvantage in the circumstances of their employment.

  • Women's rowing is established and began its OUA domination ever since.


  • Dr. Leola Neal, last Dean of Women, retires after 42 years of affiliation with Western.


  • Lesley Thompson leads Western's rowing team as a coxswain before going to the Olympics. She goes on to represent Canada at three Olympics and earned three medals.


  • Western's Caucus on Women's Issues firmly establishes itself on campus with Anne Bolgan as its first president.



  • Women's cross-country team begins a seven national title championship streak.


  • At Western, women students constitute approximately 50% of the student population. (Source: Western Facts)



1986 - Present

With the establishment of the Centre for Women's Studies and Feminist Research along with a greater number of women employed at many different levels of employment at Western, the benefits have been felt throughout the University's community. Female student enrolment reaching nearly 60% proves that women are a leading part of Western.


  • Louise Tamblyn is one of Western's first sexual harassment officers.


  • The Centre for Women's Studies and Feminist Research is established. Kathleen Okruhlik, philosophy professor, is the first Director of the new centre.


  • Connie Backhouse, Roma Harris, Gill Mitchell, and Alison Wylie release the Chilly Climate Report. This report "chills" the university community with details on the treatment of some women on campus.

  • Western's Caucus on Women's Issues lead the way for the President of Western to publish a Policy on Employment Equity and establishes a Standing Committee on Employment Equity


  • CAUT established a Sarah Shorten Award in honour of Sarah Shorten, a Philosophy professor at Western. Sarah's outstanding achievements and commitment in the promotion of the advancement of women in Canadian universities and at Western leaves a legacy for many women to follow.

  • The first graduates of Women's Studies are Geraldine Stephenson and Jennifer Tiller.


  • Western's Caucus on Women's Issues releases a video Chilly Climate for Women in Colleges and Universities as a follow up to the Chilly Climate Report. The video production is done by Kem Murch Productions.


  • Reva Gerstein is the first woman Chancellor at Western. Earlier in her academic career, she is the first woman to become a member of the Government's Committee on University Affairs.


  • Elizabeth (Libby) Fowler, is the first woman to Chair the Board of Governors.


  • Women celebrate 100 years of education at Western. A well-attended reception marks the event with Dr. Leola Neal, last Dean of Women, being remembered.


  • Western's women faculty members make up 6.1% of full professors, 25.1% of associate professors and 33.6% assistant professors. This is compared to the national average, women comprise 14.4% of full professors, 30.5% associate professors and 41.8% assistant professors. (Source: Western Facts & CAUT)


  • President Paul Davenport releases a Strategic Plan,"Making Choices: Western's Commitment as a Research-Intensive University" with one of its targets to increase the proportion of women faculty members of all levels on campus.



  • There are 927 full-time faculty members at Western; women hold 279 positions. (Source: Western Facts)

  • Women's cross-country team wins first women's national title in more than a decade.
  • 60% of degrees awarded by UWO are given to women. (Source: Western Facts)


  • Western's women athletics celebrate 75 years of great success.

Sources Consulted

Banks, Margaret A. Law at Western, 1959 – 1984. Faculty of Law, The University of Western Ontario. London, Canada. 1984.

CAUT Awards: Sarah Shorten Award
Accessed: 19/10/03

Chilly Collective (ed). Breaking Anonymity: The Chilly Climate for Women Faculty. Wilfred Laurier University Press. Waterloo, Canada. 1995.

Gwynne-Timothy, John R. W. Western’s First Century. University of Western Ontario. London, Canada. 1978.

London Free Press. “Co-Eds’ Football Game Runs into Interference”. November 25, 1946.

Luckman, Helen. Mustang Tales: The History of Women’s Sports. (Work in progress)

Robbins, Wendy, et.al. Ivory Towers - Feminist Audits: Selected indicators of the Status of Women in Universities in Canada
Accessed: 29/10/03

Sanders, Doreen (ed). Learning to lead : Western Business School, The University of Western Ontario. Western Business School, University of Western Ontario. London, Canada. 1993.

Shervill, Robert N.(ed). They Passed This Way : Selection of Citations, 1878-1978. University of Western Ontario. London, Canada. 1978.

Talman, James J. and Ruth Davis Talman. “Western” – 1878-1953. University of Western Ontario. London, Canada. 1953.

Tamblyn, William F. These Sixty Years. University of Western Ontario. London, Canada. 1938.

University of Western Ontario. Faculty of Medicine. Alumni Association. Bulletin. London, Canada. The Association. 1937.

University of Western Ontario. Occidentalia. The University of Western Ontario. London, Canada. 1932, 33, 40, 41, 45, 47, 52, 54, 56, 74.

Western’s Caucus on Women’s Issues Archives.

Western Facts 2003
Accessed: 28/10/03

Wright, Mary J. and C. Roger Myers (eds). “Psychology at Western”, in History of Academic Psychology in Canada. C.J Hogrefe, Inc. Toronto, Canada. 1982, 116-131.





Dr. Kathleen Braithwaite-Sanborn

image: Dr. Kathleen Raithwaite-Sanborn

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Helen I. Battle

image: Dr. Helen I. Battle

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Dorothy Turville

image: Dr. Dorothy Turville

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Francis K. Montgomery

image: Francis K. Montgomery

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Miss Western

image: Miss Western

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Undergraduate Women's Organization - 1940

image: Undergraduate Woman's Organization

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Powder-Puff Bowl Newspaper Clipping

image: Powder Puff Bowl newspaper clipping

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Frosh Princesses

image: Frosh Princesses

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Frosh Queen Anne Walker

image: Frosh Queen Anne Walker

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Student protestors

image: Student protestors

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Dr. Susan Hunter-Harvey

image: Dr. Susan Hunter-Harvey

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First Poster Advertising Women's Studies at UWO

image: First women studies courses offered at Western

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