A movement to appoint a Dean of Women started in the 1890s, when women students debated off and on whether such an official would benefit them, or whether it would interfere too much with their independence.
The movement gathered steam after 1900, when the number of female students at Queen's had reached a few hundred and concerns grew about the morals and deportment of women students living in crowded boardinghouses near campus, often alongside men.
But many women students were still ambivalent or opposed, so the University at first hired only an "advisor to women" in 1911. In 1918, the post was retitled and the former "advisor," Caroline McNeill, became the University's first Dean of Women.
McNeill was the wife of a professor and only later became a faculty member herself, but all subsequent Deans (with the exception of Evelyn Reid in the 1970s) held academic appointments jointly with the deanship, in subjects ranging from English to Astrophysics.
Ban Righ Hall opened in 1925 and Hilda Laird took over the post of Dean, which took on a new dimension: the Dean played a role in the day-to-day operation of the women's residences, reporting to the Ban Righ Board. Until the 1960s, the Dean was a live-in headmistress charged with the supervision of women students under her care. Curfews, late-leaves and visitors to the all-female residences were strictly enforced.
The Dean also made rules for women who lived off-campus, supervising how they dressed (no "slacks," except at breakfast, until the 1960s) and their choice of housing (no unsupervised apartments, no boardinghouses with men, and no boardinghouses that had not been personally approved by the Dean).
As the sexual revolution of the 1960s swept throughout North America, the position of Dean of Women went through a significant transformation. Instead of a surrogate parent, the Dean became a trusted advisor on issues effecting all women on campus whether students, staff or faculty.
In the 1970s, when the Ban Righ Board became an advisory body only and the Dean of Women took over the whole job of running the women's residences (and, between 1987 and 1990, all residences), before relinquishing all involvement in residence management in 1990.
The Dean of Women moved her quarters to Victoria Hall in 1965 and successive deans continued to live there until 1990, when the "in-residence" tradition ended and the Dean moved to an office in Mackintosh-Corry Hall.
By the early 1990s, Queen's was one of only a handful of universities in Canada that still had a Dean of Women. Over the decades the role had evolved from that of surrogate parent to a resource for students, faculty and staff, and in particular for the women on campus.
The Dean of Women was available for consultation and discussion on the wide variety of issues affecting women in the University. She provided information on services available for women in the Queen's community. She sponsored special events and offered informal counselling on personal, academic, and financial matters.
In the mid-1990s, Principal Bill Leggett identified the need to re-examine the position and its activities in the context of a larger review of equity and human rights structures at the University. The review, completed in 1996, recommended a more broadly integrated equity structure at Queen's. The position of Dean of Women was discontinued and in 1996 a new position, the University Advisor on Equity, was created.
In 1997, determined to preserve the legacy of the position, the Alumni Association's Committee on Women's Affairs established a steering committee to direct the writing of a history of the Dean of Women. The result, Their Leaven of Influence: Deans of Women at Queen's University, 1916-1996, by Queen's alumnae Maureen McCallum Garvie and Jennifer L. Johnson, was published in 1999.
Deans of Women: