The history of the Mount is a story of humanity and growth. From its inception, the University has been concerned about the welfare and fortune of individuals and communities, at home and abroad. Established by the Sisters of Charity in 1873, the Mount was one of the only institutions of higher education for women in Canada. At a time when women could not vote, the Mount provided an opportunity for women to learn and participate equally in society.
The original purpose of the academy was to train novices and young sisters as teachers, but the Sisters also recognized a need to educate other young women and therefore opened the academy to young women who lived in the city of Halifax.
By 1912, the Sisters recognized a need to offer greater opportunity through university education. In keeping with their progressive thinking, they immediately adopted a plan to establish a college for young women. To ensure that the education provided by the future college would be of the highest quality, Mother Mary Berchmans Walsh sent a number of Sisters to earn doctoral degrees at institutions such as Notre Dame, the Sorbonne, Fordham, and the Catholic University of America.
In 1925, through the efforts of such people as Dr. Mary Evaristus Moran, S.C., the Nova Scotia Legislature passed a bill granting a charter to Mount Saint Vincent College empowering it to grant its own degrees. With that, Mount Saint Vincent College became the only independent women’s college in the British Commonwealth. It offered degrees in Education, Nursing and Arts.
Sister Evaristus served as the first President (1925-1944) of Mount Saint Vincent College. She worked tirelessly for the development of the new college and for the young women who came to be educated there. When she became Superior General in 1944, Sister Maria Rosaria Gorman succeeded her as President.
Sister Rosaria’s term as President (1944-1954) saw many significant changes in the college, particularly in its physical plant. A fire in January of 1951 completely destroyed the original Mount: Motherhouse, novitiate, academy and college. Students and Sisters were temporarily housed elsewhere in the city and classes were conducted in borrowed space. Fortunately, a new building had been started in 1949 and was ready by the Fall of 1951. This building, now recognized as Evaristus Hall, served as the only residence, administrative and academic facility until 1966. During these years, the Sisters carried the total financial responsibility for the operation of the college and provided the land and the funding required for the construction of Evaristus Hall. There were also changes made in program offerings during Sister Rosaria’s term. By 1951, degrees were offered in Arts, Secretarial Science, Music, Home Economics, Library Science, Nursing and Education.
Also in 1951, the first lay person was hired as a faculty member. Until then, the college had been staffed solely by Sisters, who until 1956 received no salaries other than minimal living expenses. In fact, even when salaries were recorded for the Sisters, all but living expenses were contributed back to the institution until 1973. Those who taught and worked at the institution were fully committed to its mission and to the young female students whom they served. It was because of this commitment and the fact that a large percentage of the college’s income came from contributed services that the institution was able to grow. At no other university would faculty members (Sisters, in this case) be found setting dining room tables, making beds, providing general housekeeping and maintenance, fixing clocks, and staffing the switchboard, in addition to carrying out regular teaching and research duties. Contributed services accounted for 35 per cent or more of the total income for the college until at least the mid-sixties.
As the Mount moves into its future, it is preparing to transform an academic environment that will ultimately transform lives. A recognized leader in Flexible Education, professional studies, traditional Arts and Sciences and applied research, the Mount is on the threshold of a future as vital as the ocean within its sightline. Building on its distinct features and esteemed history, the Mount will become an environment for transformative learning and a university with unparalleled social impact – at home, across the country, and overseas. It is these distinctive features that make the Mount unique in the post-secondary landscape and connect our past to our future.