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© McCord Museum
Miss Maude E. Abbott, Montreal, QC, 1887
Wm. Notman & Son
1887, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
17 x 12 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum

Keys to History:

In the second half of the 19th century, school attendance for children under 14 became the norm, and in some provinces it became compulsory. Secondary and post-secondary education was deemed a luxury for struggling working-class families unable to pay the tuition. While many such families were willing to make sacrifices to give their sons every possible advantage, they were less likely to do the same for their daughters. As they were expected to become wives and mothers, formal schooling was considered by most to be a waste for women.

Girls enrolled in Protestant and English private schools could expect a heavy dose of "domestic arts" training. The same was true of the missionary-run schools for Aboriginal children. Catholic girls' day schools offered young women a solid grounding in the classics, but according to Mme. Dandurand, popular convent boarding schools prepared young French women "for a life of duty, peaceful, happy, resigned to whatever may be her lot after marriage."

Yet no matter how well they performed in high school, women were denied entry into universities up until the last quarter of the century. In 1875 New Brunswick's Mount Allison University became the first to grant a woman a degree. Others were very slow to follow.

Source : Straitlaced: Restrictions on Women [Web tour], by Elise Chenier, McGill University (see Links)


Despite the many changes over the past 100 years, formal portraits of graduating students have remained much the same.


This portrait was shot in Notman's studio, not far from McGill University, where Maude Abbott was a student.


It was taken in 1887, at the end of her first year in McGill University's Faculty of Arts. She was a member of the third class of women to be admitted to the "Donalda Department for Women."


Maude Abbott became a world-renowned medical pioneer, but her early years at university were marked by a frustrating series of educational and professional barriers placed in front of her simply because she was a woman.

© Musée McCord Museum