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Three students enjoy a cup of tea in their room in Edwardian Toronto.Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 705A.
Photo from City of Toronto Archives

A Room of Their Own

U of T’s first women’s residences launched lively campus traditions

A cup of tea and Varsity banners marked student life in Edwardian Toronto. This trio’s pennant, F.O.E. 10, marks them as belonging to the new Faculty of Education, founded in 1906. Then as now, students personalized posters and possessions.

Whether these women took a room in a $1- to $3-a-week boarding house – as about half of out-of-town students did at the time – or lived in one of the new residence buildings is not known. But they had options. In 1903, U of T welcomed 47 students to its first women’s residence, Victoria College’s Annesley Hall. When Trinity College joined the university in 1904, its existing St. Hilda’s residence became the second, and University College’s Queen’s Hall followed in 1905. All three boasted “steam heating, electric lighting, and all the modern conveniences,” as St. Hilda’s 1914 brochure put it. Room-and-board costs that year? $210 annually, with a $12 first-year surcharge for bedding and furniture.

Residence life was lively. Annesley Hall had a doctor who suggested a personalized exercise routine for each student at the beginning of the year. “Freshettes” bonded over an orientation week that included, per the Toronto Evening Telegram, “proposing to clothespins, singing lullabies to dolls, diving into flour for raisins and a cold duck to clean off.” And a “tango outburst” at student dances scandalized some Torontonians – but while Queen’s Hall’s straitlaced dean, Mrs. Campbell, swore to shut down dances after just one tango step, Annesley permitted the “gallivanting glide.”

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