The women of Queen’s, as told through their campus paper

An examination of women in The Journal through the decades

Journal staff in 1917-1918, Charlotte Whitton is fourth in 2nd row from bottom.
Photo: 

The first female Editor in Chief of The Journal took over while World War I raged overseas.

Charlotte “Lottie” Whitton was The Journal’s first female Editor in Chief in 1917. Formerly, she was one of the first two women elected to the AMS at Queen’s. Her success came before women were considered legal persons, but it was no indication of a progressive attitude toward women on campus. 

Throughout Queen’s history, The Journal has reflected the  prevailing attitudes toward women on campus. Its archives chart a school struggling over gender. Whitton’s progress is balanced against unchallenged sexism. The paper’s condemnation of sexual violence faced off against dismissals of gender issues. 

This course began with World War I and Whitton.

Wartime Queen’s had roles to fill. As men went off to war, women stepped up. It was during this time that Lottie Whitton became the most notable example of a female presence at The Journal, leading the paper.

Before Whitton moved from Ladies section editor to Editor in Chief, she’d pursued other leadership roles, running for assistant to the secretary of the AMS as one of the first two women to be elected to the student government executive. 

The 1916-17 Journal’s staff disapproved of her election to the AMS, questioning its constitutionality. 

They asked whether her win was a “frank recognition of the high place women occupy in the life of the University” or “a clear bit of scheming” on the part of the AMS in order to win the support of the Levana Society, the women’s governing body on campus. However, while men were away during the war, women predominated campus life. 

In Whitton’s year as Editor in Chief, she was one of four women on the editorial masthead—two were women-only Levana section editors, and a third was the paper’s artist. By 1920, after men at war had returned to campus, The Journal’s masthead had reverted back to all men.

Meanwhile, women on campus began to question their roles at the University. 

The Levana editor wrote an article questioning what they would make of post-war life once men returned to take back their old roles. 

They’d gained prominence over four years, only to return to the status quo after the men were back.

Meanwhile, The Journal maintained a section for Levana until the mid-50s, reporting on the Levana society and women on campus. 

While bikini-clad women covered multiple front pages, Levana remained a voice for women.

Slowly changing attitudes

As the years passed, The Journal mirrored the realities for women on Queen’s campus. Suzie-Q week—when gender norms were temporarily dropped and women could ask men out on dates—still saw the paper prioritize male voices. 

In November of 1942, the paper published a satirical advertisement for a man seeking a Suzie-Q date. “I am handsome, a simply superb dancer, an excellent coacher, and I simply reek with money,” he wrote.  

During Suzie-Q week, students could easily see the divide between genders on campus, according to a 1949 article penned by Journal staff.  

“The girls learned in a week why they can’t be gold diggers at school,” and the men “felt good to have someone else reaching into the old purse for a change,” the article read.

By 1960, The Journal was evolving as  a new wave of feminism swept across campus.

In 1967, a first-year arts student and Journal staff member was attacked on Alfred Street on her way home from The Journal’s offices. Dean of Women B. E. Bryce said the event was unfortunate, but a part of life.

 “We live in a complex society and such things sometimes happen,” she said.

In the following issue, The Journal published an editorial urging Queen’s to take action to protect female students—they suggested lights outside residences, police patrol on campus, and an escort system for women returning home from club activities late at night. 

However, when Queen’s women began to publicly reject their unsafe surroundings, their protests were met with criticism. 

A 1968 satirical advertisement ran parallel to campus activism. The ad, placed by Journal editors, announced a bankruptcy sale, offering to the highest bidder “one pint-sized typewriter thief” and “four slightly deflowered assistant news editors.”

At the end of the year, the Journal staff pitched themselves to students as a good employer, using the women on staff to make the point. “Next years Journal … completely revised … spicy magazine … full colour pornography … two issues a week … on top of the news … and female reporters…” the paper read. 

A 1969 Journal article summed up Queen’s attitude toward women during these decades. Queen’s orientation “was the most degrading experience … a woman could go through,” according to one incoming female frosh.

Shortly after, a September 1969 piece titled “Suzie Q. Student B.A. (M.R.S.),” claimed the women of Queen’s needed to compete with each other. “Susie must be constantly competing with the girls around her,” and, “From the time she was a little girl, Susie has been socialized into thinking that her fulfillment in life lies in the acquisition of a husband and child,” it read.

Reflecting the era, male student reporters were largely unsympathetic to ideas of gender equality, creating their own column to share advice in mitigating Suzie-Q week. 

The Tower Talks, written by a staff editor under the pseudonym Grant H. Tower, was a satirical 1974 column that suggested tips for men to prepare in advance of Suzie-Q week. 

“Don’t be easy,” the column read. “This is a small campus and the other boys will  talk. … No nice boy attends hotel room parties with a strange girl.” 

Sharing a floor, sharing a campus

When co-ed residences were introduced to Queen’s in 1967, it was a scandal in Victoria Hall, according to a 1967 Journal article that year.  

The residence had recently allowed mixed gender living arrangements in the summer. On certain floors, married couples as well as single men lived in the traditionally all-girls Victoria Hall. 

By 1988, it was the norm.

“Vic chicks, McNeill men and the dodo bird: all now extinct breeds,” a Journal headline read once men and women began to live permanently in shared residences.

While women were beginning to share a more even playing field with men, it still wasn’t enough.

In 1988, a series of arrests at a Take Back the Night protest occured. Kingston Police detained a 15-year-old and a third-year Law student for causing a disturbance when they refused to stop chanting, “No more patriarchy, no more s—t.” 

After their arrests, other protestors began to rock a police car and chanted, “Serve and protect whom?”

“Have we come such a long way, baby?”

Only a few years earlier, The Journal had considered gender successfully dealt with.

“Have we come such a long way, baby?” a story in 1975 asked. 

Decades later, in 2018, roughly 70 per cent of The Journal’s masthead is comprised of women. Campus looks different as well. In 2017, over 59 per cent of first-year students identified as female.  

But the remnants of a volatile history aren’t completely gone. 

Thirty years after its first occurance on Queen’s, Take Back the Night events continue to address ongoing sexual violence. In 2017, Kingston saw a 53 per cent increase in police-reported sexual assaults, according to Statistics Canada. 

In 2018, only 25 of the top 100 earners at Queen’s were women. Meanwhile, daughter drop-off signs still draw controversy during Frosh Week.

The campus’ progress is present, but it’s never far from the past. 

 

Tags: 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.