Torch - Fall 2015


Democracy at Havergal— Empowering Our Student Leaders

By Susan Pink

F or the past 112 years, the young women of Havergal have been exercising their right to vote at the school. First Principal Ellen Knox began teaching her students about the democratic system 14 years before women were given the right to vote in Ontario in 1917. Knox believed that women could do anything they set their minds to and that education was a preparation for an active, contributing life. Her mission as principal was to inspire, train and indoctrinate leaders for service in the far corners of the world; this mission continues to inspire our students and faculty today. The democratic system at the school began in February 1903, after Knox established a new constitution to expand student leadership opportunities. She introduced the idea that Upper School students could vote for class Presidents and Vice-Presidents for each grade. That year, Knox also appointed six Grade 12 girls as Prefects to act as liaisons between herself and the student body. These new Prefect positions were in addition to the group of Grade 12 students the faculty and staff selected to be Seniors. Until the establishment of the School Captain role in 1917 (a position also selected by faculty and staff until 1929), the Seniors were the most powerful students in the school and were selected carefully because of the special privileges and authority they had. When the House system was established school-wide in 1929, the position of Seniors was replaced by House Prefects. That year, Upper School students could elect one Grade 12 student per House to take

on the role of House Prefect, now called House Captains. Students would also vote for the School Captain and Games Captain positions for the upcoming school year. Encouraging young women to participate in democracy was forward-thinking for an all-girls school. However, the system proved challenging as student election results could be easily influenced by the heavier-weighted votes of the administration, faculty and staff. At the time, the value of each vote was counted as such:

• Prefects—six • Faculty and staff—seven • Department Heads—eight • Vice Principal—nine • Principal—10

• Grade 9—one • Grade 10—two • Grade 11—three • Grade 12—four • Grade 13—five

Faculty members tallied the votes. Clearly, those with the heavier- weighted votes had the power to change the results of the election process. This democratic process continued until 1983, when School Captain Lynn Archibald and her team of Prefects decided that it was time to change the system to make it even more democratic. “They believed if we were to be teaching true democracy, it was important to ensure that each person involved in the process understood it and had input into it,” reflects Brenda Robson, Dean of Students at the time.

Left: 1941 House Prefects; Right: 1975 House Prefects


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