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Allisonian Firsts: Harriet Starr Stewart

A virtual exhibition celebrating the bold Allisonians who became the "firsts" in their field.

Harriet Starr Stewart

First female Bachelor of Arts in Canada and in the British Empire, 1882

First female Master of Arts from Mount Allison University, 1885

Portrait of Harriet Starr Stewart in traditional Victorian dress.

Harriet Starr Stewart, [1885?]

Mount Allison University Archives, Picture Collection, 2007.07/337. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.

Harriet Starr Stewart was born on 3 April 1862 in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. She was the daughter of Rev. Charles Stewart (1827-1910) and Harriet Augusta (Starr) Stewart (1822-1893). Her father had served as a member of the Board of Trustees and Executive Council of Mount Allison since 1864, and in 1870 was appointed professor of Theology. During this time, Harriet attended public school in Sackville before entering Mount Allison University in 1878. In 1882, she became the first woman in Canada and the British Empire to receive a Bachelor of Arts. After further study, she was also granted her Master of Arts in 1885.

Stewart's biography in the October 1882 edition of the Argosy suggests there was some initial confusion about a woman's need for a bachelor's degree. "What of the future?" the author writes. "There are no indications of legal leaning in the mind of our girl graduate ... nor that she will preach ... nor that she will doctor." Nevertheless, the author proudly states that,

"Whatever Canadian colleges may outstrip ours in producing famous graduates, none shall win from Mt. Allison the honor of having trained the first lady B.A., and none shall win from Miss Stewart the honor of being that B.A." [1]

While Grace Annie Lockhart had been refused the cap and gown only seven years earlier, Harriet Starr Stewart was allowed to wear them both and to participate in convocation ceremonies alongside her male peers. [2] Once Lockhart and Stewart had paved the way, other women quickly followed in their footsteps. In 1885, Bessie Narraway earned her B.A. from Mount Allison University, followed by Annie Burwash and Sarah Shenton in 1888. From 1893 onward, every graduating class at Mount Allison University included at least one woman. [3] 

Stewart was active in church and philanthropic organizations. She was a charter member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) when it was formed in New Brunswick. She also served as an editor of The Palm Branch, a publication of the Women's Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, and for a number of years was involved with the Dominion Board of that organization. Following her sister-in-law’s death in 1917, she moved to Regina to assist her brother Charles David Stewart with the rearing of his children. While in Regina, she was again active with Women’s Missionary Society work, serving as President of the Auxiliary, Vice-President of the Saskatchewan Branch, and representative to the Dominion Board. She died in Regina, Saskatchewan, on 1 November 1931, and is buried in the Sackville Rural Cemetery.

Related materials

You can find more information about Harriet Starr Stewart and peruse the contents of the Stewart family fonds (accession nos. 8039 and 9113) on our Descriptions Database. You can access these records by planning a visit to the archives.


[1] The Argosy, October 1882, p. 3-4.

[2] Chignecto Post, 8 June 1882.

[3] The Mount Allison Record, vol. XII, 1929.


Image Gallery

A modest room with a fireplace and three large windows. There are a number of chairs around the room.

Harriet Stewart Hospital, [1890 - 1899?]

Image depicts the interior of a section of the Harriet Stewart Hospital. The room was likely located in the First University Men's Residence which burned down in 1899. Mount Allison University Archives. Raymond Clare Archibald fonds, 5501/MTA5/9/2/1/59. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.

Harriett Starr Stewart, her father, and his second wife, seated in the home library. There are a number of framed paintings hanging on the wall and behind them are shelves of books.

[Harriet Starr Stewart], her father Rev. Charles Stewart, and his second wife, Carrie Jordan, in the library [ca. 1900]

This image provides a unique interior view of a house in Sackville around the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The house is located at 85 York Street. Mount Allison University Archives. Stewart family fonds, 8039/3/8. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives

Portrait of Harriett Starr Stewart.

Harriet Starr Stewart, [ca. 1915-1925?]

Mount Allison University Archives. Raymond Clare Archibald fonds, 5501/9/7/88. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.