Queen's was the first university in Canada west of the Maritimes to allow women into its classrooms, and was also early in doing so in international terms. Professor Clarke Murray started the new era at Queen's in 1869 when he offered special English classes for women. This was almost a decade before the University of Toronto or Oxford, for example, held classes for women, and Queen's was also well ahead of most American universities.
At first, women at Queen's were still segregated from men and unable to officially register or obtain degrees; that partly changed in 1876, when women were allowed to enroll with men in some courses. In 1878, all Arts and Science courses were thrown open to women; again, Queen's was well in advance of most other universities.
The first woman to register was the local schoolteacher Elizabeth De St Remy, who signed up in February of 1876. The first two women in Ontario to receive university degrees - Annie Fowler and Eliza Fitzgerald - graduated from Queen's in 1884, Fitzgerald with the gold medal for Classics.
The admission of women did not come without a struggle. A writer at the Queen's Journal reflected the views of many when he wrote condescendingly in 1876: "We are confident that among people who appreciate the delicate grace and beauty of woman's character too much to expose it to the rude influences, the bitterness and strife of the world, few will be found to advocate her admission to universities."
The progressive views of leading professors, notably philosophy professor John Watson, helped to ensure that these views did not hold sway in the Faculty of Arts and Science. But the permanent admission of women to other faculties took considerably longer.
Women were admitted to medical studies at Queen's as early as 1880, but were forced out by disgruntled male students in 1883, and were not readmitted until 1943 (see Women Medical Students, Expulsion of).
It was not until 1942 that women were admitted for the first time to the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. The first female students in Theology enrolled in 1940. The Faculties of Law (established in 1957) and Education (established in 1965) were open to women from the start.
Other milestones for women at Queen's were the appointment of the first female member of the academic staff in 1909, when Wilhelmina Gordon became a tutorial assistant in English; the election of Charlotte Whitton as the first female editor of the Journal in 1917; the selection of the first woman registrar, Alice King, in 1930; the election of the first female President of the Alma Mater Society, Dorothy Wardle, in 1941; and the appointment of Hilda Laird as the first woman department head (in a discipline other than nursing) in 1950 (see Department of German).