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Allisonian Firsts: Mary Elsinore (Tait) Wylie

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

Mary Elsinore (Tait) Wylie

First Bachelor of Music from Mount Allison University, 1917

Mary Elsinore (Tait) Wylie, [1917]

Mount Allison University Archives. Nancy Vogan fonds, 8125/12. May only be reproduced with permission of the Mount Allison University Archives.

Mary Elsinore "Elsie" Tait was born on 5 October 1894 in St. John's, Newfoundland. She was the daughter of Dr. James Sinclair Tait (1849-1928) (Class of 1877) and Sarah Elizabeth Calkin (?-1925). She received her early education at Bishop Spencer College which was known to have a rich music programme. Little else is known about Tait's early life. She had three older brothers, and the family was active in the Gower Street Methodist Church in St. John's where Grace Annie Lockhart's husband, Rev. J. L. Dawson, was minister. Tait entered Mount Allison University in 1911, studying with James Noel Brunton at the Music Conservatory. In 1913, she interrupted her studies at Mount Allison to take further musical training in Berlin, Germany. Later, Tait returned to continue at Mount Allison.

Music instruction had been part of the Mount Allison Ladies' College curriculum since its beginning in 1854, and by 1874 it had begun awarding certificates and diplomas in music. However, it was not until Prof. Brunton's arrival on campus that the course of study for the Bachelor of Music degree was announced. In 1917, Tait became the first recipient of Mount Allison University's Bachelor of Music (B.Mus).

During Convocation in May 1917, President Borden said the following:

"A few years ago a course of Literary and Musical studies was elaborated leading to the degree of Bachelor of Music. This course required not only the proficiency of those who have qualified themselves to take the Post-Graduate course as effective performers, but also demands extensive courses in Harmony, Theory, and Musical Composition.

Miss Tait is the first--but we trust not the last--of our talented and ambitious students to prepare themselves for this degree. I congratulate Miss Tait on having her name placed on our graduate roll as the pioneer in this new field of advanced study." [1]

Following graduation, Tait returned to Newfoundland, where she established herself as a private music teacher. She also served as organist and choir director at the Gower Street Methodist Church and director of various community choirs, including the Memorial University College Glee Club. In 1941, she married businessman Fred Wylie, who was also a leading tenor and frequent soloist in the Gower choir. She died on 30 June 1989. Both she and her husband are buried at the Gower church cemetery.


[1] The Mount Allison Record, May 1917.