1884 | Women are allowed to take classes, as a condition of Lord Strathcona’s $120,000 endowment to the University

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Donald Smith (Lord Strathcona) was McGill’s chancellor from 1889 to his death in 1914 and one of the biggest donors in the history of the school. Perhaps most notably, in 1884, Smith made an endowment for $120,000, “on the condition that the standard of education for women should be the same as that for men for the ordinary degrees in Arts, and that the degrees to be granted to women should be those of B.A., M.A., L.L.D., which should be so granted to them by McGill University on the same conditions as to men.” In other words, Smith’s enormous gift incentivized—and effectively required—that McGill start admitting women to the university. However, since Smith was a key administrator and shareholder of the Hudson Bay Company, this event was made possible by the capital accumulated through the exploitation and dispossession of Indigenous communities. In other words, it would seem that much of the progress made by the University is contingent on colonial violence.

Donald Smith, later called Lord Srathcona, was a key administrator and shareholder of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). HBC stationed him in Labrador where he engaged in trades with the Inuit and Naskapi Innu nations who were the region’s only other residents. These Indigenous communities were suffering from extreme food scarcity, opening them up to exploitation by Smith and other HBC employees. For instance, Inuit and Naskapi traders would sometimes receive only “a little tobacco and a few strings of beads” in exchange for two years of hunting. He proved to be a highly valuable employee to the HBC and is described by Gustavus Myers as “the greatest and richest Canadian capitalist” of his time.

Smith was McGill’s chancellor from 1889 to his death in 1914 and one of the biggest donors in the history of the school. Perhaps most notably, in 1884, Smith made an endowment for $120,000, “on the condition that the standard of education for women should be the same as that for men for the ordinary degrees in Arts, and that the degrees to be granted to women should be those of B.A., M.A., L.L.D., which should be so granted to them by McGill University on the same conditions as to men.” The first women students at McGill were even nicknamed the “Donaldas.” Smith’s enormous gift incentivized—and effectively required—that McGill start admitting women to the university. However, this event was made possible by the capital accumulated through the exploitation and dispossession of Indigenous communities. In other words, it would seem that much of the progress made by the University is contingent on colonial violence.