Black and White image of 11 Caucasian young women in a 1950s chemistry lab in three rows separated by lab benches. All are wearing 1950s era clothing. In most distant row  on the left female student with glasses happily pours chemicals in a beaker while her row mates examine textiles and take notes. 3 students in the middle row take and read notes from their lab manuals. Student at station 82 looks into a microscope while adjusting the lens. A curly haired student in the closest row exams a pale liquid in a beaker while the middle student in her row looks to something off camera in a stance suggesting she is writing and a third student exams a fabric that is shiny as though it were satin or silk.
Photo “Female students in the textile chemistry laboratory at the MacDonald Institute, which was part of the Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario” by Archives of Ontario CC BY-NC 2.0

Nestled on the north side campus sit the buildings of MacDonald Institute, one of three colleges that would famously amalgamate to become the University of Guelph in 1964.

While those familiar with the University’s history may know that the Institute was founded by Sir William MacDonald in 1903 with connections to the Ontario Agricultural College, as a place to receive education in Domestic Sciences, it may not be as widely known that MacDonald Institute served a much larger role as well as one of the first officially recognized Women’s Institutes in Canada and as a part of a trailblazing movement in rural women’s higher education.

Particularly, the Institute was founded under the encouragement of Adelaide Hoodless, who belonged to a movement of women’s education that believed in the importance of educating rural women and bringing the benefits of science into women’s homes.

Recognizing in its founding days the socially conservative ideal that women should take up positions in the home of the communities they sought to serve, MacDonald Institute and the education movement sought to provide an education that would benefit them both academically as well as practically. Surviving documents from the early days of the Institute showed how access to this level of higher learning not only garnered women’s confidence, but also had lasting effects in the movement towards women’s suffrage.
Though the MacDonald Institution’s history is not without fault, it can most certainly be said that it has held an important place in the history of Women’s Education in Canada.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: