EXCERPT FROM UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO MAGAZINE - JUNE 2002

FIRST WOMEN PROFESSORS

During the First World War, Clara Benson unearthed an unlikely connection between food and explosives: their chemical properties, she found, could be analysed using the same methods. Comparing, say, a tomato and mortar powder was a novel idea, and munitions labs quickly adopted her tools for analysis.

Benson's achievements in science harked back to the turn of the century: in 1903 she graduated with a PhD in physical chemistry, one of the first two women at U of T to receive a doctorate. But few research opportunities existed for women chemists, so Benson became a demonstrator in food chemistry at the School of Household Science. In principle, the program was not one she agreed with, but she quickly rose to the position of lecturer. In 1906, when the school was designated as a full-fledged faculty, Benson and principal Annie Laird became the university's first associate professors.

AnnieLaird
Annie Laird

Unlike Benson, Laird – a graduate in household science from Drexel Institute in Philadelphia – had always been a strong supporter of the course, and felt that it "should be regarded by the pupils and the general public not only as a school of cooking, but a combination between art and science." Laird headed the Faculty of Household Science for 34 years, although she was never granted the title of dean; instead she was referred to as the faculty's "director" or "secretary."

Annie Laird and Clara Benson earned groundbreaking titles in 1920, however: they became the first female professors at the University of Toronto – 36 years after women were first admitted to U of T.