The creation of the AMS
In the 1840s and 1850s, Queen’s students first recognized their commonality by convening conversaziones – evenings devoted to debate and opinions. The camaraderie of these debates prompted Queen’s students to band together in 1858 to form the Alma Mater Society for the “maintenance and defence” of their rights, making it Canada’s oldest student government.
Queen’s would not be a college segregated by fraternities, and so from its outset, the AMS was an activist organization rather than a social club.
In 1873, it founded the Queen’s Journal, one of the oldest student newspapers in Canada. The AMS thus perpetuated the debating tradition, but at the same time giving voice to issues closer to everyday student life, such as the need for gym facilities and a study week before exams.
In the 1880s, the AMS also took the lead in styling the Queen’s “brand.” Working with sports captains, they decided Queen’s colours were blue, gold and red.
The AMS quickly went beyond literary opinion and school colours. In 1898, the university Senate delegated a large measure of student non-academic jurisdiction to the AMS. The AMS Court emerged to dispense justice to students who had erred in their behaviour and brought discredit on the university. The Court worked on natural justice guidelines, with prosecution and defence being undertaken by students themselves and penalties being devised to suit the case at hand.
In these same years, other mainstays of student government emerged. Annual referenda allowed students to decide what fees they were prepared to pay to sustain their campus life.
When Principal Grant died in 1902, the AMS rallied Queen’s students to donate an astonishing $30,000 in support of the construction of Grant Hall.
The AMS also incubated a student-funded clubs system, whereby monies were voted to groups bringing students together to indulge passions varying from sports to Gaelic dancing.
The evolution of the AMS continued in 1934, when medical students attempted to affiliate with the American Nu Sigma Nu fraternity. In response, the AMS banned anyone belonging to the fraternity from donning the football tricolour. A meeting of the AMS membership voted en masse to reaffirm the banning of all fraternities from the campus, a policy that remains to this day.
Pictured above: AMS general meeting 1924