Legacy of trailblazing professor lives on in bursary
This article is printed in the July edition of the Gazette, which is now available. You can get your copy at newsstands around campus.
By Alec Ross
Not many people know this, but a direct connection exists between a certain asteroid, a crater on Venus and Queen’s University. That connection is Dr. Allie Vibert Douglas, one of the world’s first female astrophysicists and Queen’s Dean of Women for 20 years.
Vibert Douglas died in 1988 at the age of 93. A year later, to acknowledge her many contributions to science and Queen’s, the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Kingston Club established a scholarship in her name. Since then, through a variety of activities the club’s membership has worked steadily to raise funds for an endowment.
That persistence came to fruition on May 14, when at their annual dinner the club members presented the hard-earned cheque that finally pushed them past their $50,000 target.
The endowment will support the CFUW Kingston Club A. Vibert Douglas Award, which was created in memory of Vibert Douglas and Caroline Mitchell, an outstanding Kingston businesswoman who was one Ontario’s top amateur golfers and a longtime member of the CFUW Kingston Club. Mitchell died in 1978.
The original Vibert Douglas scholarship and a bursary honoring Mitchell existed as separate awards given out by the Office of the University Registrar (Student Awards) until July 2011, when they were combined in a single award.
Marilyn Wilson, chair of the scholarship trust for the Kingston club, says creating the endowment was a practical decision. The club's 50-odd members had been supporting the two awards through their own fundraising efforts, but as many club members were getting older, Wilson says, “We felt we should make a permanent mark and have a permanent endowment.”
Born in Montreal in 1894 and orphaned while young, Allie Vibert and her brother George were raised by their maternal grandmother, whose surname, Douglas, Allie would later adopt. When George enlisted in the army in 1914 the family moved to England. During the First World War, Allie served as a statistician at the British War Office, and for her work she was named a Member of the British Empire – at age 23. She spent her university years at McGill and Cambridge, where she studied under the renowned astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington. After the war she returned to McGill, earned her PhD in 1926 and taught at university for 13 years. She accepted a position as Queen’s Dean of Women in 1939 and remained in the post until 1959, acting as a strong advocate and role model for acceptance of women in professional courses. After her retirement she taught astronomy for six more years in the physics department.
In 1947 Vibert Douglas was elected president of the International Federation of University Women, the first and only Canadian to occupy the post. She was elected president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada that same year – becoming its first female president – and helped to establish the society’s Kingston chapter.
The International Astronomical Union named an asteroid and a Venusian crater after Vibert Douglas in 1988.
The CFUW Kingston Club A. Vibert Douglas Award is given to a Bachelor of Science student who demonstrates both financial need and academic achievement. First preference is given to students in third or fourth year of a physics program, and second preference is given to female students.