I came to Victoria in the fall of 1957 – a scared and somewhat awkward kid from Brantford determined that I was going to ‘make it’ at university. I almost didn’t; if it hadn’t been for the determination of my mother – who had been discouraged from going to university by her mother – I would have dropped out at Christmas that year. It was so different. At home I had been a big fish in a small pond and now, suddenly, I was in this place full of strangers who were clearly brighter, prettier, and more accomplished than I was. [Dennis Lee took me out for coffee on freshie weekend and talked to me nonstop about my roommate who became his first wife!]
What made me come back and stay from now going on 53 years were the people I met and the friendships I formed. I have a very clear memory of the Traditional Ceremony in 1957 – it was only for the women in residence in those years and was preceded (true confession time) by limited hazing – I remember most being blindfolded and made to walk through cold porridge barefoot in tubs in the basement of Annesley. But after the hazing, as we climbed the stairs to the chapel, the stairs were lined with the sophomore women who had been our tormentors all dressed in grey flannel skirts and U of T blazers smiling at us and holding smiles. I remember choking up as we sang the ‘Lamp of Learning’ to the tune of ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’ accompanied by a member of the French department on the piano.
I became principal in 1981 and three years later in 1984 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the graduation of Nellie Greenwood, the first woman to graduate from Victoria. As we researched the history of women at Victoria and the U of T in the years leading up to the centennial, I became acutely aware of the unique place Victoria has held within the federation in its treatment of women. As Augusta Stowe Gullen once said ‘it has been a bed not strewn with roses’ but Vic women have held a remarkable place in U of T as students, faculty members, administrators, volunteers. The traditions, largely forged by that formidable and long serving Dean of Women Jessie MacPherson, have given Vic women a sense of value and potential that has allowed us to go from this place to serve the wider community. It was my privilege for ten years to preside over the Traditional Ceremony as the only woman to serve as Vic’s principal. The expressions on the faces of the freshies (as scared and as full of bravado as I had been) as the testimonials were given and the pledge read and then the flames of the candles protected (at times in vain against the wind) until I gave the command to blow them out are memories I will always cherish.
May we all remember what we have been given and continue to live by what we learned in this good place.
Submitted by Sandy Johnston Vic 6T1