This letter to the Warden of Hart House acknowledges that women could not attend debates in Hart House. Instead the letter asks if women could listen to the John F. Kennedy debate in a separate room with the help of a loud speaker.
Pounding On the Door
John F. Kennedy, before he was President of the United States, came to Hart House in 1957 for a debate. Already popular, many women wanted to hear him speak. Despite letters of protest, Joseph McCulley, the Warden of Hart House, refused to let women attend.
A group of women, including Linda Silver Dranoff, decided to picket the event outside Hart House. One protester snuck into the debate dressed as a man.
In 1967, women were allowed in the back of the debate room. They were still silenced, unable to ask questions or participate. Laurel MacDowell and several friends protested this discrimination and sat on the floor with the men. They were booed and hissed at by those in the room.
After decades of pressure and the death of Vincent Massey, Hart House fully opened to women in 1972.
This Varsity article from September 1954 outlines the creation of a co-educational coffee shop in Hart House. Prior to this, Hart House was restricted to men only. The new space, called the Arbor room, was open to women after 3PM. The room was accessible to women through a separate entrance. Before this, women could not get anything to eat unless a man got it for them.
Breaking Down the Door
Hart House was a stark reflection of the sexism and exclusion present on campus. However, gradual changes to their gender policies increased access for women over the years. Even with these developments, the remaining restrictions would still be considered ridiculous today.
Women could watch a set number of debates, had to sit separate from men, and could not participate in their discussions. They could enter the art gallery and Arbor room only at select times. For particular events, like concerts, women could attend only if escorted by men. Women even had to enter the building through a different door.
Increasingly more men started to side with women on these issues, encouraging them to sneak in. The restrictions against women at Hart House inspired increased feminist activism. When you visit Hart House today, reflect on the women who could not enter in the past and their 53-year struggle for equity.