Mary Kingsley Tibbits was born in 1870 and attended the Collegiate School in Fredericton, where she received the Governor General’s Medal. In 1884, she traveled to Wellesley, Boston University, and the Harvard Annex (Radcliffe) but was denied admission because she was not yet sixteen years old.
Upon returning to New Brunswick, she began preparing for her matriculation exams, which were required for university admission. She discovered that any “person” could work towards a UNB degree if they completed the matriculation exams, paid the fees, and signed a declaration to obey the rules and regulations.
With the assurance from William Nelson, a prominent lawyer of the time, that she was indeed considered a person (although women were not legally recognized as persons in Canada until 1929), Tibbits placed second in the matriculation exams and applied for admission to UNB in 1885. However, she was refused entry. 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, contested the annual provincial grant to UNB because it was not admitting all duly qualified students, specifically Mary K. Tibbits. The matter was referred to the university, and a senate committee investigated. In June 1886, the senate voted to admit women to “the privilege of the university on the same basis as men.”
Both students and administration welcomed Mary K. Tibbits into the Class of 1889. She graduated with Honors in English and received the Stanley Gold Medal, named after the governor general of the day.
After graduating, Tibbits pursued a distinguished career. She was part 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 Hyde Park High School in Boston.
In 1914, Mary K. Tibbits was honored with an MA from UNB, and in 1939, she received an honorary LLD in recognition of the 50th anniversary of her graduation. For several years, she served as the honorary president of the Alumnae Society, which was established in 1910. Mary K. Tibbits passed away in December 1951 at the age of 82.
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