University of King's College Alexandra Society Fonds

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University of King's College Alexandra Society Fonds

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  • 1902-2002 (Creation)
    Alexandra Society

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4.05 metres of textual material, graphic material, and objects.

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Administrative history

The Alexandra Society was founded in 1902 by a group of at least fifty Anglican women as a Women’s Auxiliary to the University of King’s College in Windsor, NS. These women were primarily not students, and were rather community members invested in the Divinity School at the College as “mothers, wives and sisters of Church of England men.”1 In 1910, the group renamed themselves the Alexandra Society after Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII.2 The society’s foundation as an Anglican group is reflective of the close relationship between the Church and King’s. The College remained a religious institution until 1971, and to this day incorporates many Christian practices into its traditions.3 Though the Alexandra Society was composed of mainly Anglican women, the group began accepting any woman interested in the welfare of King’s soon after their formation.

The Society initially set their membership fee at 25 cents annually, in the hopes of being financially accessible to as many women as possible. Their initial objective was to ask the university to hire an additional Chair of Divinity which would be called the Queen Alexandra Chair. They petitioned the administration with this request in 1903 along with the promise that they would fundraise to supply the Chair’s salary ($1000 annually) for the first five years.4 That is the equivalent of approximately $26000 today.5 Once the society was successful in funding this position, they worked towards other initiatives that they believed would support the College, Church, and greater community.

In 1914, the society became responsible for furnishing the newly constructed women’s residence. After the Windsor campus burned down in the fire of 1920, the society turned their efforts to rebuilding the women’s residence and the Chapel. In the 1930s, once the rebuilding projects were mostly complete, they turned their focus to fundraising for supplies for the women of Alexandra Hall and bursaries for women and Anglican students at King’s. One of their largest fundraising campaigns happened in the early 1960s, as they organized to assist in the funding of the new women’s residence, Alexandra Hall.6 After the Faculty of Theology at King’s was disbanded and amalgamated into the new Atlantic School of Theology (AST) in 1971, the society began fundraising for scholarships for Anglican students there as well. The women of the Alexandra Society primarily fundraised through bake sales, auctions, dances, and other forms of grassroots advocacy.7 As the years went on, the society financially supported Alexandra Hall, the Divinity School, the Library, the Chapel, and scholarship funds.8 It is estimated that they raised well over $500 000 for scholarships and other initiatives.9
It is important to contextualize their volunteer work through the lens of women’s unpaid and often invisible labour, understanding that the group worked behind the scenes to keep the College and its students thriving. The Alexandra Society is part of a tradition of women’s social clubs that sought to better themselves and their communities in an altruistic manner.10 As former Alex Hall resident and Assistant Librarian Patricia Chalmers (BAH ‘80) explains: “[The Alexandra Society members] were working quietly behind the scene providing us with the things we needed.”11 Accounts like this one remind us that though the vast majority of the Alexandra Society members were not alumni of King’s,12 they spent countless hours and weeks and days working to ensure young women would have access to education, and that King’s as an institution would continue.
The Alexandra Society inspired the creation of the Young Alexandra Society, founded in 1989 by a group of women King’s students and dons. The group supported the Alexandra Society and organized an annual ball at the Lord Nelson Hotel to raise money for scholarships.13 After members of the Young Alexandra Society graduated, they were encouraged to join the Alexandra Society, though this was uncommon as the landscape of volunteering changed over the years. Simply put, women had more mobility, opportunities, and access to workplaces than years prior, making volunteer groups like the Alexandra Society an unsustainable thing of the past.14 As Dr. Henry Roper explains: “Charitable organizations are increasingly professionalized and geared to a world of working couples… the Alexandra Society came into being in another world, and its work has helped King’s College to survive and bring a new world of female equality.”15 Roper’s remarks capture the context of the Alexandra Society’s creation, and ultimately their end.
At a meeting in 1998, the Alexandra Society decided that they would plan to disband the society at a final meeting in 2002, so they would be able to celebrate their centennial.16 This final meeting and ceremony was held on May 13, 2002 at the King’s College Chapel. Various members of the King’s and AST community attended to give them an appropriate send-off.17 A new Bible was dedicated to the society in the Chapel, and various mementos and records were on display in the Library. Members of the society planted a forsythia bush in the quad as one of their last acts. Former president Joy Smith explained the decision by stating: “it’s one of the first plants to flower in the spring. It’s such a beautiful, bright flower. It’s always been in bloom when we met here each year.”18 This sentiment shows that though they were sad to be disbanding, the general consensus among society members was that they were content with the legacy they were leaving. The reason we can discuss all of these events in such detail is due to the fantastic
record-keeping of the Alexandra Society. From 1902 to 2002, they kept extensive minutes from every meeting they held. The group also curated several scrapbooks and photo albums that span decades, a task they took so seriously that every year the role of scrapbook “custodian” would fall to a different member to ensure proper documentation.19 Keeping this method of preservation in mind, it is important to understand that this was not just a single collective of women, but many small groups scattered throughout the Maritimes. The Alexandra Society had 29 branches across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island throughout its existence.20 These branches fostered community among themselves and among the people they served. Together, these branches raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the King’s campus and for student welfare. For an entire century, Alexandra Society members came together to safeguard and advocate for the King’s we know today. It is important to remember them, and to understand how our institution has been cared for over the years.

1 Alexandra Society minutes from their first meeting, 17 June 1902, p. 5.
2 Reflected in Chronicle Herald article from 8 May, 2002.
3 This may be best reflected in the community surrounding the Chapel at King’s,
4 Henry Roper, homily read at the last Alexandra Society meeting, 13 May, 2002, 2.
5 This is an estimation using the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, Please note that the oldest data available is from 1914.
6 Karl Turner, “Alexandra Soc. bids farewell,” Tidings (Halifax, NS), Summer 2002, p. 21.
7 Reflected in Alexandra Society minutes spanning from 1902 to 2002.
8 Reflected in Alexandra Society minutes from their last meeting, 13 May, 2002.
9 Reflected in Chronicle Herald article from 8 May, 2002.
10Consult Arlene Kaplan Daniels’ Invisible Careers: Women Civic Leaders from the Volunteer World for more information on the role of unpaid women volunteers in Western society.
11 Karl Turner, “Alexandra Soc. bids farewell,” Tidings (Halifax, NS), Summer 2002, p. 21.
12 Reflected in Chronicle Herald article from 8 May, 2002.
13 This information has been preserved through oral history and can also be seen in the King’s College Record.
14 Reflected in Chronicle Herald article from 8 May, 2002.
15 Henry Roper, homily read at the last Alexandra Society meeting, 13 May, 2002, p. 4.
16 Reflected in Chronicle Herald article from 8 May, 2002.
17 Reflected in Alexandra Society minutes from their last meeting, 13 May, 2002.
18 Karl Turner, “Alexandra Soc. bids farewell,” Tidings (Halifax, NS), Summer 2002, p. 21.
19 This is reflected in Alexandra Society minutes from 1990 onwards.
20 Henry Roper, homily read at the last Alexandra Society meeting, 13 May, 2002, p. 2-3.

Custodial history

The records were in the custody of the Alexandra Society members until donated to the University of King's College Archives soon after the society was dissolved in 2002.

Scope and content

The records in the fonds were created, received, or used by the Alexandra Society. These records were stored in various spaces across the King’s College campus and at society member’s homes before being donated to or acquired by the University of King’s College Archives. The oldest records (before the turn of the century) were found in storage in the Arts and Administration building by Assistant Librarian Patricia Chalmers and Dr. Henry Roper. Most other records slowly accumulated as the various Alexandra Society branches folded.

The primary activities of the Alexandra Society were to raise money for scholarships (for women and Anglican students) and the general well-being of King’s College. The records cover the Alexandra Society’s finances, meeting minutes, and general comraderie. There are many photographs that document fundraising efforts. These records reflect the society’s Anglican origins.

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