Jean Royce, BA'29, LLD'68, was the longest-serving Registrar in Queen's history, a profound influence on the lives of thousands of Queen's students, and a force in the academic development of the university.
In the 35 years from the Great Depression to the 1960s, virtually every undergraduate coming to Queen’s received “a Jean Royce letter” – notification of their acceptance from the university registrar. With a deft human touch, the meticulous registrar tracked the subsequent performance of those she brought to Queen’s, and few ever forgot the experience.
Born in St. Thomas into a blue-collar family, Miss Royce studied at the Ontario Library School before enrolling at Queen's as an extramural student in 1925. Two years later, she switched to full-time, studying English and History and becoming active on campus in the Student Christian Movement, the Debating Society, and the Levana Society.
She worked briefly at Douglas Library, where she organized the documents collection. There, Miss Royce caught the attention of university registrar Alice King. A few years after graduating, while working as a teacher in Whitby, Ontario, she received an offer from Miss King to return to her alma mater as assistant registrar. Her salary was $1,200.
When Miss King died in 1933, Miss Royce took over. She was a perfectionist, annually combing through hundreds of applications and mentally cataloging the strengths and ambitions of Queen’s would-be students. Her dedication to institution and student alike was unflagging. In the words of her biographer Roberta Hamilton, Miss Royce “worked like a human dynamo six days a week for all but six weeks of the year.”
She served in the post for the next 36 years, during which time it is estimated that she personally counselled 30,000 students.
She was renowned for her sympathy and understanding of students' problems and her skill at identifying and encouraging students of ability.
Her judgment combined compassion with equity. In 1942, when a young Jewish refugee from war-torn Europe, Alfred Bader, sought admission after being rebuffed at McGill and Toronto, Miss Royce opened Queen’s door. Dr. Bader never forgot the kindness.
Miss Royce was one of the few women of power on Queen’s male-dominated campus. A small number of women professors in the Arts and Science Faculty and the School of Nursing, plus the Dean of Women, gave women only a marginal voice in campus affairs. Miss Royce resisted this culture, making her office an enclave of female achievement. Moreover, by serving as secretary to crucial bodies such as the library curators and the Arts and Science Faculty. She had a significant influence on the development of Queen's curriculum, especially in the expansion of course offerings in the Faculty of Arts and Science in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1960s, Queen’s tripled in size to 10,000 students. This growth strained the registrar’s office and it was no longer possible for Miss Royce to personally vet each applicant.
In 1965, Royce was awarded the Montreal Medal of the Montreal Alumni Association for her exceptional contributions to the University.
She retired in 1968, and that autumn, the university awarded Miss Royce an honorary doctorate of laws in recognition of her decades of service. The graduating class gave her a standing ovation.
For most of her tenure as Registrar she also served as Secretary of the Senate, and at various times she also held other positions, including Secretary of the Arts and Science Faculty Board and Secretary to the Board of Graduate Studies.
She was also National President of the Alumnae Association, helped determine the scholarship winners for this association for many years, was a founder of the Ban Righ Foundation (see Ban Righ Centre), and a member of the Board of Trustees (1969-1975).
In addition, the students showed their appreciation of her wise counsel by making her honorary President of the Alma Mater Society in 1952.
Professor Emerita Roberta Hamilton published her biography, Setting the Agenda: Jean Royce and the Shaping of Queen's University, in 2002.