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Grace Annie Lockhart - 19th century advocate for educational equality

Grace Annie Lockhart
Grace Annie Lockhart

SACKVILLE, N.B. - Grace Annie Lockhart was an advocate for a woman's right to receive a higher education, for women’s suffrage and pay equality.

When she earned a bachelor of science in 1875, Lockhart was also Mount Allison university’s first female graduate and the first woman in the British Commonwealth to earn a bachelor’s degree.

A century after her death in 1916,  Sackville, N.B., university honoured Lockhart this year, first in May in Sackville and then again in September with a ceremony at her gravesite in Tryon, P.E.I.

Lockhart “played a pivotal role in both Mount Allison’s history and the history of post-secondary education for women globally,” university president Robert Campbell said in September, noting her interest in women’s suffrage and pay equality.

RELATED: History is her story, too


Who was Lockhart?

Last spring, Mount A archivist David Mawhinney shared some insights gleaned from historical documents donated to the school by Lockhart’s grandson’s widow, Nita Dawson.

She was born Feb. 22, 1855, the youngest of four daughters of Edward Elias Lockhart and Susan C. Whittekir, the latter who died when Grace Annie was an infant. Her older sisters and the family’s housekeeper, Rosanna Wilson, raised the youngest Lockhart.

The eldest sister went the Mount Allison Ladies’ College and two more sisters followed, but none stayed more than a year despite having enough money to stay from their grandfather Whittekir ‘s estate.

Grace Annie proved a bit more studious, entering Mount Allison Ladies’ College in 1871. She completed a mistress of liberal arts degree in 1874 and the bachelor of science the following year.

She appears to have been popular and gregarious while she was in Sackville. A tintype donated to the archives pictures Grace Annie with eight classmates in what could be considered as an 1872 version of the group portrait.

Her final picture from her time at Mount Allison was taken on the occasion of her graduation. Notably, she is also the only one in the group not wearing a gown or holding a mortarboard.

She took on the role of Methodist minister’s wife in 1881 when she married Prince Edward Islander John Leard Dawson in Saint John. Thereafter, the couple moved regularly in keeping with the three-year circuits of the Methodist denomination, living in all four Atlantic Provinces.

The couple had three sons who all attended Mount A. The oldest and youngest became engineers and the middle son, Wilfred Thomas Dawson, distinguished himself as the university’s ninth Rhodes Scholar.  He went on become a professor of pharmacology in the United States.

Mount Allison’s Class of 1875

Grace Annie Dawson’s life was likely conventional in many ways, but  - despite the confines of her role as a minister’s wife  - she was an activist. One recently donated photograph pictures Grace Annie with her husband and two sons wearing a white ribbon on her dress, showing her membership in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. It also gives clues to her interest in social reform. Some of Grace Annie’s thoughts were published in a very interesting 1896 newspaper article three days after Wilfred Laurier became the first French-Canadian prime minister.

In Mount Allison’s Class of 1875 photo, Grace Annie Lockhart and her future spouse, John Leard Dawson, were seated side by side.

Here are a few of Grace Annie Dawson’s observations in her own words:

On the vote: Perhaps the Reform bill, which will allow women equal suffrage with men, will be as much a leap in the dark as that of ’67 [referring to Canadian Confederation], but if it brings us as much nearer to the clear daylight, will it not also be as beneficial?

On the higher education of women: Higher education of women – What is it?  It is the higher education of women to fit them for the higher spheres of action, whether they be political, professional, or social – the same education that men need under the same circumstances.

 On education: As mind is greater than matter, the cultivation of the mind is more important than the cultivation of the soil.

Clearly, she was a woman who knew her own mind and was not afraid to push for change.

“Grace Annie Lockhart is an individual all Canadians should look up to and celebrate,” P.E.I. political role model Catherine Callbeck said recently of her fellow Mount A alumnae and Maritime pioneer in women’s equality.

RELATED: Political pioneer Catherine Callbeck on her time in Senate

How do you suppose she saw herself? Mawhinney mused in his May article, noting comments from Grace Annie’s granddaughter in the Mount Allison Record:

 “We knew about (our grandmother’s accomplishment) certainly, but I can’t ever recall it being considered a big fuss … it was just something that happened and was fantastic.  I don’t think my grandmother ever made a big deal of it either.”

Grace Annie Lockhart Dawson died in Charlottetown 100 years ago last May at the young age of 61. Both Grace Annie and her husband are buried in the People’s Cemetery in Tryon, P.E.I.

Editor’s note: Portions of this article appeared on the earlier this year as Grace Annie Lockhart – a Mount Allison and Canadian heroine and Mount Allison to honour first woman in the British Empire to receive bachelor’s degree

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