History of Lillian Massey Building

Lillian Massey building, ca. 1909

Lillian Massey building, ca. 1909

In the fall of 2019 Jane Aspinall of the Toronto Reference Library called my attention to an archival document about Lillian Massey Building and the Household Science Department. Jane’s colleague Steven Shubert, who had published an article on the stained-glass windows in the marble staircase, was also very interested. Since Jane is my partner, and Steven was once my (excellent) Greek language student, this all seemed like happy coincidence to the Interim Chair. In addition, Isabelle Cochelin, Interim Chair of the Centre for Medieval Studies, alerted me to plans for an event in the building for Household Science alumnae to occur in May of 2020. Unfortunately this event had to be cancelled, but through the year I gathered notes with the intention of composing a newsletter item. 

The Toronto Reference Library document, a dozen or so type-written double-spaced pages, gives an account of the origins of Lillian Massey Building. The author, Katy Malouf, has been identified by Jessica Todd, Archivist for Victoria College, as an employee in the 1980s of the Ontario Ombudsman, housed in Lillian Massey before the arrival of Classics and CMS. Lillian Massey Tremble (1854-1915) was the daughter of Hart Massey, after whom Hart House is named. She provided funds towards the construction of the building, completed in 1913, to house the Department of Household Science. The name of this department to this day remains in stone above the front entrance. 

For some, the concept of a university department devoted to domestic skills seems dated and unsettling, as expressed in blogTO’s 2010 articleNostalgia Tripping: The Lillian Massey Department of Household Science” (which includes some nice pictures). But Annie Laird, the director of the program, and Clara Benson, who taught in the program, are of historical significance in the history of the University of Toronto. The two were the first female professors at the university, and the latter was one of the first women awarded a doctorate at U of T, in physical chemistry. It was lack of suitable employment opportunities that led to Clara Benson to teach “food chemistry” in the Department of Household Science.

Clara Cynthia Benson, ca. 1899

Clara Benson, ca. 1899

The training in food processing, textile manufacture, clothing design, space management, and infirmary sanitation was based on scientific foundations. A contemporary plan of the third floor indicates, besides offices and classrooms, multiple kitchens and laboratories.

Floor plan

3rd floor plan, Lillian Massey Building

 

Laboratory, Lillian Massey Building

Laboratory, Lillian Massey Building

The second floor also contained laboratories, kitchens, and lecture rooms. According to Katy Malouf, up to 100 students could work in the building’s laboratories at the same time. It is not for parties that a kitchen was attached to our room 205; this is where students for marks prepared meals to serve professors in the adjoining wood-paneled dining room. Though the program was generally considered preparatory for the management of a home or the teaching of home economics in secondary schools, students could also hope for careers involving textiles, food, and lab work. 

Lillian Massey Building provided female students of the university space for exercise when Hart House allowed only male members. Clara Benson, after whom is named the Clara Benson Building, originally the Women’s Athletic Centre, long advocated for the establishment of athletic facilities for females on campus. Below are pictures of the basement pool (now covered over within Club Monaco; its glass roof is still visible in the back of the building), and the gymnasium, which consisted of the east side of the basement and first floor (my office seems to exist in an upper corner of it).

Pool, Lillian Massey Building; gymnasium

Pool, Lillian Massey Building; gymnasium

Gymnasium, Lillian Massey Building

Gymnasium, Lillian Massey Building

The activities in the Household Science Department were the inspiration for the scenes on the beautiful stained-glass panels in the marble staircase. As Steven Shubert explains in his article “Egyptianizing Stained-Glass in Toronto,” Lillian Massey Tremble originally envisaged scenes of Greek women working. These would be consonant with a neoclassical building with a main entrance inspired by the north porch of the Erechtheion. But the artist, Henry Holiday, elected to create ancient Egyptian scenes of cooking and cloth preparation. Steven, who has a PhD in Egyptology from the University of Toronto, expertly discusses these scenes with their simple hieroglyphics in his article, as well the artist’s colored drawings, or modelli, now stored in the Royal Ontario Museum. The windows themselves were dedicated in 1915, soon after the death of Lillian Massey Tremble.

Besides Jane Aspinall and Steven Shubert, I thank Jessica Todd, Will Robins, and Isabelle Cochelin for their assistance. All images are in the public domain and acquired from the University of Toronto Archive. Steven Shubert’s article in the Spring 2014 issue of KMT A modern Journal of Ancient Egypt is stored on our department website with permission. I have also consulted The University of Toronto: A History by Martin L. Friedland (University of Toronto Press, 2002) and A Path not Strewn with Roses: One Hundred Years of Women at the University of Toronto, 1884-1984, by Anne Rochon Ford (University of Toronto Press, 1985). Both are available online through Robarts. I have also viewed a further archival document by an alumna of the program, shared with me by Isabelle Cochelin.