40 Years of Women at Hart House

No Women or No Money

Vincent Massey’s original donation of Hart House to the University of Toronto stipulated that the building be restricted to men only.  It wasn’t until after his death that the deed of gift was altered paving the way for women to become full members in 1972.

Only After 3:00 pm

In 1954, Joseph McCulley, then Warden of Hart House, opened the Arbor Room as a co-educational space that women could use, but only after 3:00 pm. It was a start. Soon afterwards, the first permanent women’s washroom was installed and a new women’s entrance appeared in the south wall of the building.

Nail Polish Politics

It was a great plan until a well-manicured hand gave it all away. In 1957, female students disguised themselves as men to gain entrance to a high-profile debate between future US president, John F. Kennedy and Stephen Lewis. When a security guard spotted nail polish on one of them, the lot was escorted out. They re-joined the hundreds of other women outside who were picketing in protest of Hart House’s exclusion of women.

Women as Warden

Prior to Prof. Bruce Kidd’s appointment, the two previous Wardens of Hart House were female. Margaret Hancock began her 10-year tenure as Warden in 1997. In the introduction to A Strange Elation, a book on the history of Hart House, Hancock writes, “While originally intended ‘for the exclusive use of the male members of the University’…the founding principles of Hart House have proven to be elastic as well as solid, and the House has responded to the changing social context of Toronto by becoming more inclusive. Although we still struggle to divest ourselves of the ghosts of perceptions that Hart House is exclusively for a white male elite, women are full members (and in fact run both the staff and most of the committees).”

In 2007, when Louise Cowin took over as Warden, the annual Hart House Lecture was renamed the Hancock Lecture in honour of Margaret Hancock. Cowin, who acted as Warden until 2011, worked to dispel any lingering perceptions of exclusivity by re-writing the Hart House vision statement to include “where all voices, rhythms and traditions converge.”