Processions are prevalent in many ceremonies – from the walk to the altar to the convocation dais – perhaps because they aptly illustrate the marching on of time. This procession of U of T dignitaries also highlights the strides that women were making at the university. The group is strolling across front campus on May 18, 1917, to oversee graduation ceremonies at Convocation Hall. At the head are three females who had earned U of T degrees, and went on to prominence, in an era of intense social strictures.
Clara Benson (second from the right, smiling) was the first woman at U of T to graduate with a chemistry degree, in 1899. She also made inroads at the university as one of the first two women to earn a PhD and one of the first two female professors. At the front of the line is Constance Laing (BA 1892 Trinity, MA 1902), an educationist who would go on to serve as president of St. Hilda’s College Council.
The third woman (with her face turned away from the camera) is Dr. Augusta Stowe-Gullen (MD 1883 Victoria) – the first female to graduate in medicine in Canada. Stowe-Gullen had served as a professor at Women’s Medical College, and worked at Toronto Western Hospital. Her graduation had surely been a sweet family triumph: her mother, Dr. Emily Stowe, had earned her medical degree in the States; U of T had not granted Stowe admission because she was female.
In 2008, 190 students earned Doctor of Medicine degrees. One hundred of these graduates were women – who added their own footsteps across King’s College Circle and along time’s procession.