Mary K. Tibbits

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In 1885, Mary Kingsley Tibbits wrote and passed the matriculation examination, placing second and "tied with the young man who won the Charlotte County Scholarship", in one of the requirements for students seeking admission to the University of New Brunswick. According to the Statutes of New Brunswick, any person who "passed the matriculation examination, paid the dues, and signed the declaration (agreeing to abide to the rules and regulations of the University)" was entitled to attend UNB. Armed with her successful exam results and assurances from William Nelson, "a leading lawyer of that day," that she was indeed a person and therefore eligible to enroll, she made a "respectful request" to President Harrison that she be allowed entrance to the university. Her request was denied. With no recourse, Tibbits resumed her study of Greek under the tutelage of [Bliss Carman].

It was in 1886, and only when threatened with the curtailment of provincial funding by John Valentine Ellis, an MLA who opposed the university grant because admission was "refused to a duly qualified student, one Mary K. Tibbits," did the Senate reconsider their previous position. Agreeing that "females should be admitted to the privileges of the University on the same terms as men," Tibbits was allowed to commence her university education in September of 1886. She became the first woman to graduate from UNB in 1889, when she was awarded a BA (Hons. English) and the Governor General's Gold Medal for academic proficiency.

After graduating from UNB, Tibbits pursued a distinguished career. She was a member of the first class of graduate students at Bryn Mawr College, became the first female principal of a New Brunswick high school (Queens County Grammar School in Gagetown), and became head of the English Department at Boston's Hyde Park High School. A dedicated teacher, she devoted more than 40 years of service to the Boston school system.

In 1914, Tibbits became the second woman to be awarded an honorary MA from UNB. Interestingly, she was not aware of the degree until she received the parchment in the

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mail some 15 years later. In a letter to UNB President C.C. Jones dated 29 June 1929, she wrote:

"...It was my first intimation from the University authorities...that my alma mater had given me an honorary degree on the twenty-fifth anniversary of co-education at the University. You suggest that I should have written you in 1914 that I had not received an M.A. parchment. Since I had not been notified by the University that an honorary degree was to be conferred on me, nor that it had been given, I certainly could not write the Chancellor in regard to it."

UNB conferred its highest honour, the LLD degree, upon Tibbits in 1939 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her graduation. On this occasion, she travelled to Fredericton to attend Encaenia and receive her degree, the first honorary doctorate awarded to a woman by UNB. Many UNB scholarships, prizes, and awards, as well as two women's residences, have been named in Tibbits' honour. Mary K. Tibbits died in 1951 at the age of 82.


© UNB Archives & Special Collections, 2013