THE WALL OF WOMEN PROJECT

A GROUP OF STUDENTS’ CALL FOR BETTER REPRESENTATION AT A SMALL CANADIAN UNIVERSITY

November 12, 2014  

Written by Meg Shields on behalf of the entire team behind the Wall of Women Project.
All images will be featured in the Wall of Women collection.

It started, as most things are wont to at the University of King’s College, with a combination of beer and idealism. The HMCS Wardroom, the beloved campus bar, had just opened for the new term and enthusiastic reunions with local brews were aplenty. A couple pints deep, undergraduate Meg Shields was facing a blank wall and an adjacent dusty photo of the Queen. Between sips of porter, Shields noted to some female peers how ridiculous it was that such a blank wall should exist when there was a tangible absence of art that represented more than just old, white males. The few portraits of ladies she could think of were soft-lit, demure, and unintimidating; the only image that represented a woman of colour was a Wal-Mart poster of Billie Holliday tucked away in a basement corridor. This lack of a female presence was made more ludicrous by the fact that 63 percent of King’s students are women.

E.B. Clarke, first female valedictorian, 1918. Source:  The Record, Encaenia issue 1918.  Credit: University of King’s College Special Collections
E.B. Clarke, first female valedictorian, 1918. Source: The Record, Encaenia issue 1918. Credit: University of King’s College Special Collections

Shields passed her phone around asking people to note down ladies they found inspirational—the idea was that she’d print off photos from Google and crudely tape them up one night. The following day at a society fair Shields was approached by the Young Alexandra Society, a ratified group of students that has enjoyed a long history as one of the oldest women-oriented groups at King’s. They said they’d heard about her idea, and that they’d done work in the archives regarding historically relevant women from Kings’ past. They were wondering if some of the women from their research might be included. Shields, realizing that this was far superior to her initial idea, quickly made the rounds of the gym, speaking to relevant societies; students were going to increase female representation on campus, and they were going to do it properly.

The twelve photos to be hung in the Wardroom include but are not limited to: the first female member of Haliburton (the oldest university literary society in British North America), influential professors past and present, and some influential students from the University’s early years. The launch party is to take place in the Wardroom at 4:30pm on November 14. The event is going to be modest, just like the core premise of the project: beer but with more representation. Additional information on the depicted women, resources, and commentaries will be made available in a free zine.

Contemporary Studies faculty. Image by Erica Guy
Contemporary Studies faculty. Image by Erica Guy

That a drunken King’s student got uppity and vocal is not remarkable. What is moving about the growth of this project has been the enthusiasm and support of the student body, and the King’s community. Student groups intimately working to realize the project include: the Young Alexandra Society, King’s Image, the King’s Student Union, the Feminist Collective, the President of Alex Hall, Haliburton and the Day Student’s Society. The faculty and staff at King’s have been wonderfully encouraging and considerate as to this being a student effort.

Frances Mary Woodworth, first female student, 1893-1897. Credit: University of King’s College Archives photographs collection
Frances Mary Woodworth, first female student, 1893-1897. Credit: University of King’s College Archives photographs collection

The hope is that the project will become an organic and resonant piece of King’s life, while simultaneously encouraging sensitivity to how our surroundings inform our communities. Y.A.S. and Shields are working to organize a panel discussion on space and representation on campus so that the discussion can continue.

 

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