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A Brantford resident who became Canada's first Black woman to attend university.

by Sarah Clarke, Brantford Historian

In 1885, Brantford resident Blanche Williams was preparing to attend the University of Toronto for her undergraduate studies as the first Black woman to be admitted to the school and allowed the same privileges as white students. Previously, two Black sisters from Chatham had attended the university but were not allowed to attend lectures as a result of regulatory restrictions at the school.

Blanche had attended Brantford Collegiate Institute prior to being admitted to the university while living with her parents Charles and Josephine.

The family followed the Baptist religion and attended the First Baptist Church on West Street where Blanche and her mother Josephine were baptized on July 30, 1870.The Williams family arrived in Canada between 1867 and 1870. By 1870, they were living in Brantford.

Blanche’s father Charles worked as a barber at the Kerby House Hotel (picture #4) by 1877 and continued to do so until 1886. During that period of time, the Williams family resided at various places within the downtown Brantford core.

News that a Black woman would be attending the University of Toronto travelled quickly. A notice appeared in the Huntsville Gazette from Huntsville, Alabama celebrating Ms. Williams’ achievement and an article was also published on the topic by The Globe and Mail. According to the University of Toronto’s Class and Prize List for 1886, Blanche E. Williams passed in Mathematics, History, Geography, Classics and English, and obtained second class honours in French and German.

Later that year, parents Charles and Josephine moved to Toronto where Charles worked as a barber at the Palmer House Hotel; a hotel formerly located at the corner of York and King Streets that was opened by the owner of the Kerby House in Brantford.

We lose track of Blanche’s whereabouts after 1886. Do you have information to share about Blanche?

With thanks to the Brant Historical Society and Sarah Clarke.
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