Spring/printemps 2007

Women of Newfangle: Co-Education, Racial Discourse and Women’s Rights in Victorian Ontario

Sara Burke
Laurentian University
Published August 5, 2007
  • co-education,
  • women's studies,
  • Anglo-Saxon women in higher education,
  • social change,
  • women's movement
How to Cite
Burke, Sara. 2007. “Women of Newfangle: Co-Education, Racial Discourse and Women’s Rights in Victorian Ontario”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 19 (1), 111-34. https://doi.org/10.32316/hse/rhe.v19i1.275.


This article argues that during the 1870s, members of the Anglo-Canadian women’s movement targeted university co-education in their first radical assault on separate spheres ideology, deliberately exploiting the discourses of both individual and racial progress to openly contest established definitions of middle-class womanliness. Rather than accept the evolutionist theory that white women’s contribution to the race was solely reproductive – that they were passive recipients of the benefits of male progress – reformers in Ontario argued that Anglo-Saxon women had an active, vital role to play in the ongoing work of racial advancement. Reformers linked the right of middleclass women to higher education to the much larger issue of the continued progress of the Anglo- Saxon race. By championing co-education, members of the women’s movement were promoting a blueprint for social change in which the daughters as well as the sons of the new Dominion would assume their responsibility to regenerate Anglo-Saxon civilization.