147 years ago, Queen’s admitted its first female student — 35 years after it opened its doors to male students.
Although the gender gap has shrunk dramatically, Queen’s female population is still defining what it means to be a woman.
Today, women make up 62 per cent of undergraduates attending university, according to 2008 data from Statistics Canada.
It’s a number far off from 1968, when this number was closer to 35 per cent.
No longer expected to choose an education or a marriage, the myth of the ‘Mrs’ degree — that a woman may come to university to find their long-term partner — is eroding.
Today, trends show that slightly more women with a university degree are married than their less-educated counterparts.
Theresa Kosterman wasn’t looking for a husband when she decided to attend Queen’s to get her education in Chemical Engineering.
“I was really looking forward to university but all throughout first year I wasn’t looking for a relationship — I didn’t think I had to have one,” she said
Today, Kosterman, and her fiancee Andrew van Warmerdam, both Sci ’11, are engaged to be married in late August, four years after their first meeting at Clark Hall Pub’s Ritual.
Although the two fell into a serious relationship, the couple said they thought they gave each other enough space to succeed in their academics. Both now work for engineering companies, but when the time comes, Kosterman said she would want to stay home to take care of the children.
“I kind of feel bad that women feel the pressure that they can’t just stay at home and be with their kids,” she said. “It’s not like my education will be wasted by staying at home because I can help my kids do math and science and physics homework — I can get them excited about chemistry.
“I think that a lot of what I have learned in school can help me be a better mom.”
As graduation looms closer for many students, choosing between marriage or a career becomes more of a reality.
Victoria Porter, ArtSci ’15, plans on doing both when the time comes.
“I came to university so I could get an education and support myself,” she said. “I do want to support a family, maybe one day, but I don’t want it to be completely on the shoulders of my partner.”
Porter said she grew up in a home where her mother pursued her career and raised her family.
“The way I grew up in is that I saw women as self-sufficient,” she said.
Porter was actively encouraged to pursue her dreams and post-secondary education, but ultimately every woman has the right to pursue what feels right for them, she said. “Girls, as they’re growing up, should be told that these opportunities are there for them but I also think that men should be told these opportunities are there for them because this opportunity is there for everyone,” she said.
Although both students are able to choose what path they’d like to follow in the upcoming years, this freedom was slow to come to other Queen’s students.
Historian Duncan McDowall, currently writing the third volume of Queen’s official history, said that until the second wave feminist movement in the early 1960s, women were typically seen
as homemakers. This new movement focused on a larger discussion about legal inequalities, family, reproduction and sexuality rights.
Because Queen’s is such a traditional institution, McDowall said he believes that some old, anti-feminist values were embedded in the students.
In the 1960s, women started coming to university in growing numbers. They knew they needed an education to win the fight for complete equality, McDowall said, and to move away from a male-centric institution.
In 1967, the Levana Society, the official association of female students since 1888, was merged with ASUS and women began to associate themselves in the same faculties as men.
“A fight had to take place on campus to rule out these attitudes [about women] and the AMS was the crucible of it,” McDowall said. “What I think is remarkable is that women started to play a crucial role within the AMS.”
AMS events like Suzie-Q week, where women ask the men out as dates were brought to referendum in 1977 because of sexist concerns. It was voted to stay at the time, but by the early 1980s, sexism talk grew and it was soon abolished.
Although there’s still some work to be done McDowall believes Queen’s is more sensitive to these issues since they’ve become more widely recognized since the 1960s.
“Queen’s women have broken through that glass ceiling, they’ve worked their way up those professional ladders and now they’re on the top.”
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