Mary Kingsley Tibbits was born in 1870 and attended the Collegiate School in Fredericton, where she earned the Governor General’s Medal. Mary K. Tibbits then travelled, in 1884 to Wellesley, Boston University and the Harvard Annex (Radcliffe) but was refused admission because she was not yet sixteen.
Upon returning to New Brunswick she began to prepare for her matriculation exams – required for university admission where she learned that any “person” could work for a UNB degree who took “the matrics,” paid the fees and signed the declaration to obey the rules and regulations.
Assured by William Nelson, a leading lawyer of the day, that she was indeed a person (although it was not until 1929 that women generally were legally recognized as persons in Canada), Tibbits placed second in the matrics and applied in 1885 for admission to UNB. She was refused. Undeterred, she continued her study of Greek, a subject required for university admission, with her tutor Bliss Carmen (BA 1881, MA 1884, LLD 1906).
In the spring of 1886, John Valentine Ellis, MLA for Saint John, opposed the annual provincial grant to UNB because it was not admitting all duly qualified students, namely one Mary K. Tibbits. The matter was referred to the university, a senate committee investigated and in June 1886 the senate voted to admit women to “the privilege of the university on the same basis as men.”
Mary K. Tibbits was welcomed by both students and administration into the Class of 1889, from which she graduated with an Honours in English and the Stanley Gold Medal, named for the governor general of the day.
Following her graduation, Tibbits pursued a distinguished career. She was a member of the first class of graduate students at Bryn Mawr College, became the first woman school principal in New Brunswick and later joined the faculty of the Hyde Park High School in Boston.
In 1914 she was awarded an honorary MA from UNB and in 1939 received an honorary LLD on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her graduation. For many years she served as honorary president of the Alumnae Society, which was formed in 1910. She died in December 1951 at the age of 82.
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