Women Medical Students, Expulsion of

One of the worst instances of hostility to women in Queen's history took place in the 1880s, when women were banned from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Kingston, an early incarnation of Queen's Faculty of Medicine. The institution admitted women to medical studies in 1880, but there was considerable hostility to the move among some faculty and students.

In 1882, physiology professor Kenneth Fenwick started making a habit of reciting insulting anecdotes about women to draw attention to the women in his class and elicit laughter from men in the back benches. The women struck back when Fenwick, in a lecture on the larynx, likened the pitch of women's voices to that of apes.

They marched out of the class and lodged a complaint about his harassing behaviour. But Fenwick and a group of students claimed that the women were restricting academic freedom and demanded that they be ejected from the school so that lectures would not have to be "garbled" to suit their over-refined sensibilities.

Authorities at the Royal College refused their demands at first, partly because the national press had written sympathetically about the women's cause. But they caved in when the male students threatened to leave the school in a body, effectively ending its existence. Women were officially expelled in 1883.

They were able to continue in medical studies, however, when a group of sympathetic men and women from Queen's and Kingston founded the Women's Medical College. That college, although successful for a time, ultimately collapsed for lack of students in 1893, and it was not until 1943 that women were allowed to return to Queen's Faculty of Medicine.