Catherine Wallace (1917-1991), OC, BA, MA, PhD, LLD, LLD (Civil), DHumL
MSVU President from 1965 to 1974
Dr. Catherine Wallace was the fourth president of the Mount (from 1965 to 1974) and the president at a pivotal time in the institution’s history: when it transitioned from a college to a university (1966). In fact, hers has been described as a “transformative feminist presidency.”
The recipient of numerous awards, including thirteen honorary degrees and the Order of Canada, she was a member of the congregation of the Sisters of Charity until 1982, when she left, at the age of 65, explaining that “she did not feel she belonged anymore.”
While President, “Wallace focused on two priorities for Mount Saint Vincent University.
The first included a modernization platform common to most North American universities at the time: making curricula more relevant to employment, deemphasizing the strict moral behavioural code for students, seeking government funding, and widening the governance structure to include public members, faculty, and students.
The second agenda, specific to MSVU, was to find a niche that would distinguish MSVU from other universities and give it a more socially conscious mandate. Wallace’s three-pronged, oft-repeated agenda for this second phase overlapped with her own brand of feminism: focusing on education and counselling for women to help them understand their three phases of life; continuing education opportunities for mature women to help them reach their full potential; and research into women’s issues to reduce systemic gender discrimination.” (Source: Sister Catherine Wallace’s Transformative Feminist Presidency of Mount Saint Vincent University, 1965-74, by Heidi MacDonald, Acadiensis, January 8, 2019)
“Wallace developed an inter-disciplinary, team-taught course, ‘Perspectives on Women,’ one of the first women’s studies courses in Canada. … The success of ‘Perspectives on Women’ led to the development of disciplinary-specific courses focusing on women, which subsequently led to a women’s studies minor at MSVU in 1979 and a major in 1982. Veronica Strong-Boag proclaimed MSVU’s women’s studies ‘experiment’ as ‘unprecedented in Canada, even perhaps in North America’.” (Source: Heidi MacDonald)
Before her appointment as President, Sister Catherine Wallace taught English at Mount Saint Vincent College from 1958 to 1966.
The north-wing of the 2nd floor of Evaristus Hall is named in her honour: the Catherine Wallace Centre for Women in Science.
MSVU’s history is rich with the stories of countless people who’ve had an impact on the university and in the broader community.
Over the course of 2023, we’ll feature mini stories about 150 MSVU students, faculty, staff and alum. Check back often to meet more amazing MSVU people!