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Allisonian Firsts: Harriott Scammell Olive

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

Harriott Scammell Olive

First female editor of The Argosy and first female valedictorian, 1894

Harriott Olive standing in a photographer's studio in academic robes holding a rolled-up diploma.

Harriott Scammell Olive [1894 or 1897?]

Mount Allison University Archives. Picture collection, 2007.07/1579. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.

Harriott Olive sitting in a photographer's studio. She is in traditional Victorian dress.

Harriott Scammell Olive, [circa 1893 - 1897]

Mount Allison University Archives. Raymond Clare Archibald fonds, 5501/9/7/76. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.

Harriott Scammell Olive was born in 1873 in Saint John, New Brunswick. She was the daughter of Herbert James Olive (1846-1935) and Isabella Bill (McHenry) (1852-1934). Olive was the third generation of women in her family to pursue higher education. She earned a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English from Mount Allison University in 1894. While in attendance, she was President of the Eclectic Society, an editor of the Argosy, and a founding member of the Alpha-Beta Society. Olive was the valedictorian of her class after taking a full honours course and maintaining the highest marks. After graduation, Olive returned home to Carleton, New Brunswick, where she aided in a variety of literary clubs. She then continued her studies, earning a Master of Arts in 1897. Thereafter, she attended Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she received a second B.A. in 1899.

Olive aspired to a great literary career. While at Mount Allison, she served as the first female editor of the Argosy and often wrote about the literary arts. In February 1901, she published an article in which she wrote

"Literature is not merely knowledge about books, it is perception of the spirit of the book and its writer. A book is a sacred mystery. For what are words but the translation of the infinite into terms of the finite? ... Those who, long since passed away, have left a message for the world are united by that thought whose expression is in words to the men who mould the thought and voice the purpose of the present, and to those who in the years to come will live, and dream, and create." [1] 

Olive worked for Poet Lore in Boston, Massachusetts (now the oldest poetry journal in the United States), and was also employed as a newspaper columnist in Washington State. She gave up her career when she married Charles Clarence Ward, a civil engineer who attended the University of Washington, in 1903. In later life, she expressed some regret over her lost career, writing to her daughter “I wish I had stuck to my guns and pursued the writing career, which I felt would be successful, and which I gave up to be a conservative hausfrau for your father.” But her letters also express  pride in her family. In a letter to her classmate Raymond Clare Archibald, she says one of her daughters suggested she tell him she “published four children” in response to his request for a list of her accomplishments. “That is really the height of my achievement,” she says. “These are my jewels.” [2] The couple had six children, all of whom were encouraged to follow in their parents' footsteps to pursue higher education. Harriott Scammell Ward died on 5 March 1966 in Vancouver, Washington.

Related materials

You can find more information about Harriott Olive and peruse the contents of the Olive family fonds (accession no. 8607) on our Descriptions Database. You can access these records by planning a visit to the archives.


[1] Harriott S. Olive. "The Spirit of Literature." The Argosy, vol. XXVII, no. 5, February 1901, pp. 8-11.

[2] Quoted from Aloma Jardine, "Leaving a Legacy." Mount Allison Record.