Inching Towards Progress
The Mount Allison University Archives are full of hidden stories. Sometimes facts encountered there unexpectedly lead to a deeper understanding of our institutional history.
Finding out that Annie Inch (1855-1923) was a founding member of the Eclectic Society and first editor-in-chief of the Eclectic Journal offered one such moment of clarity as to how Mount Allison became a champion for women’s education.
The Eclectic Society and its journal were created in 1874 to promote literary and elocutionary culture among students at the Mount Allison Ladies’ College.
Annie’s father, James Robert Inch (1835-1912), served first as the Principal of the Ladies’ College and later as the President of the University. It was Inch who motioned the Board of Regents to admit women to the University in 1872, contending that it was “from a long experience” as a teacher and administrator that he believed “women as students met with equal success with men.”
Born in New Brunswick in 1835, Inch earned a first-class teaching license in 1850. He joined the faculty of the Mount Allison Wesleyan Academy in 1854, teaching in both the male and female branches. The following year, he and wife Mary Alice Dunn (1834-1904) welcomed daughter Annie.
Both father and daughter benefited from a Mount Allison education. When the Mount Allison Wesleyan College opened its doors in 1862, Inch joined its faculty and enrolled as a student. He earned his BA in 1864, the same year Annie entered the Ladies’ College. Inch then completed his MA and rose through the ranks of administration, eventually serving as President between 1878 and 1891.
During this time, Annie followed the rigorous curriculum of the Ladies’ College, earning her Mistress of Liberal Arts in 1873. It is impossible to say whether the impending completion of her studies played a part in President Inch’s proposal to make Mount Allison co-educational. Annie does not appear to have enrolled at the University, but she continued to be involved in campus life, becoming a founding member and President of the Eclectic Society.
The Eclectic Society was not the first literary society established by female students, nor was the Eclectic Journal the first publication produced by women on campus. Female students had in fact surpassed male students on both counts. But the establishment of the Eclectic Society and the Eurhetorian Society (for male students) and their respective publications marked the beginning of a new era of literary activities on campus.
The first issues of the Eclectic Journal, like the Eurhetorian Argosy, were written by hand and read aloud at gatherings of faculty and students. As the first editor-in-chief, Annie Inch had the honour of reading the very first issue at a public meeting on January 29, 1874.
The Eclectic Journal and the Argosy operated independently of one another, but there is evidence of good-natured rivalry between them, the Argosy noting in March 1875 that “We were particularly struck by the deferential tone assumed by our sister paper whenever it made an allusion to the Eurhetorian. There was a noticeable lack of those sisterly sarcasms which have hitherto characterized that interesting sheet.” When the Argosy published a piece calling for women to take a FFW degree (“Fit for Wives”) in 1877, the Eclectic Journal quickly printed its rebuttal, contending that such a course would be “easily acquired in two weeks” and would pale in comparison to the work they were undertaking at Mount Allison. “We do not at present intend to discuss the necessary qualifications for the FFH [Fit for Husbands],” they added.
The Eclectic Society penned half a dozen publications in all, starting with the Eclectic Journal (1874-1886) and continuing with the Eclectic Moon, the Eclectic Monthly, The White House Siftings (1894), The Hum of the College (1894), and perhaps the most well-known, Allisonia, which ran from 1903 to 1914, at which point it was amalgamated with the Argosy to form a more inclusive student newspaper. As the Argosy progressed, more women also contributed to it, which lead to their first female editor, Harriot Scammell Olive, in 1894.
Annie’s role in the creation of the Eclectic Society is only one of countless stories that capture the equal role women assumed on campus throughout history. Far from being excluded from literary efforts, the women of Mount Allison banded together to create something of their own and made sure their voices were heard.
Annie’s connection to Mount Allison continued well after her father left to take the post of chief Superintendent of Education in New Brunswick in 1891. She taught Fine Arts at the Ladies’ College between 1879 and 1881 and was active with the Alumnae Society. In 1884, she married Sidney Walker Hunton (1858-1941), who served as professor of mathematics at Mount Allison for 50 years and is the namesake of Hunton House. The couple had six children.
Annie Inch died in 1923 having devoted her life to Mount Allison. At her funeral, Professor F.W.W. DesBarres said, “She saw the first students come to the University and has been known to every single individual who, either as a teacher or student, has ever entered the University, throughout the whole course of its history. It is moving to endeavor to imagine to how many hundreds of these she … has shown kindness and gracious hospitality.”