The First 50 Years: 1881 - 1931
The cornerstone of beautiful Alma College was laid on May 24, 1878, and the doors officially opened to daughters of the elite on October 13, 1881. For over one hundred years, young women enlivened the hallways, laughed down the corridors, and filled the classrooms within its walls. Founded with the intention to offer young ladies a liberal arts education and a course of study to “make their lives useful and happy, and their tastes elevated and refined”, Alma College was a central feature of St. Thomas and attracted students from around the world. While Alma College was traditional in many ways, the school broke barriers in race, ethnicity, and gender. Recently, when the original cornerstone was disturbed, a time capsule was discovered containing a book entitled Woman, Man’s Equal, illustrating the progressive attitudes of its founders and faculty.

Throughout the years, Alma College expanded and during the second World War, Alma College even took in girls from bomb-threatened England. In appreciation, parents of the girls provided funds for windows in the school chapel. Over the years, lovely gardens were cultivated around the school and an innovative amphitheatre was created to serve as the setting for graduation ceremonies and other events. Alumnae recall fond memories of their time at Alma College and are saddened by its recent closure.

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“In considering your daughter’s education, it is important to remember that more than 90 out of 100 girls eventually have charge of a home. Homemaking is women’s grandest vocation, a proper training for that sphere is therefore the chief end of a girl’s education.” Alma College advertisement in London, Ontario paper, July 29, 1915.

While attending Alma College, young ladies could pursue a wide variety of subjects. Based on a liberal arts structure, the curriculum included literature, art, and music. The school colours of blue, gold, and crimson, came to represent this triad of academic studies. Alma was the first college in Canada to organise a department of domestic science, and later, the college came to be affiliated with the University of Western Ontario. Courses were offered in modern languages, fine art, elocution, singing, and “fancywork” (needlework, lacework, etc.). The girls had the privilege of using a beautiful art studio in the college.

“The health of the student is an object of constant care and with a view to the promotion of bodily vigour all students, except excused for special reasons, are required to take daily walks and health exercises. In addition, a liberal number of hours are set apart through the day for croquet, archery, swinging, lawn tennis, skating, etcetera. Alma College Calendar 1881-1883

While femininity was highly prized, physical fitness was of great importance to the faculty of Alma College. Numerous teams and sporting events were offered including tennis, hockey, basketball and swimming. In the early part of the century, an indoor swimming pool and a gymnasium were installed. In addition, the school possessed tennis courts. At one point in the early 1900’s, the basketball team included triplets, certainly a confusing situation for the opposing team!
“Manners and deportment as well as mental, moral, and physical training receive due attention. If the higher culture does not render our daughters more charming, personally and attractive socially as well as more companionable intellectually, it is a failure. 1906-1907 Alma College Calendar

In addition to academics, social activities flourished at Alma College. The school attracted world-renowned musicians, poets, and celebrities. Dances, May Day celebrations, plays, musical performances and Christmas events, were among the many glittering features of the Alma social life. These opportunities provided the girls with chances to exercise the feminine charms and intellectual conversations that they had been taught. One of the well-loved principals was known to scrutinize chaperones with an eagle eye!
“May your path thro’ life
Be strewed with roses
And your husband be
As meek as Moses”

Memory Book 1922-23

Looking back through the memory books of girls who attended Alma College, it is possible to envision the fun and enthusiasm that characterized residence life. Midnight parties, chats around the central radiator affectionately called the “Doughnut”, and meetings on the roof, are just some of the ways the young students amused themselves. Friendships were formed that last a lifetime, as evidenced by the active Alma College International Alumnae Association, active to this day.
The content for this page was contributed by students Sarah Katherine Coombs, Justine Alsop,
Jennifer Quinton and Chris Sheehy as part of an assignment for a course offered by the Faculty
of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario.