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A past of making futures

Following are excerpts from The Study - a Chronicle, written by Katharine Lamont, the school's third Headmistress.

The Study's founder, Margaret Gascoigne, was born in Nottingham, England. She studied the Classics at Lady Margaret Hall, the first college for women at Oxford, but could not matriculate into the university, because women were not allowed to take degrees. To be a woman student in those days was to be a pioneer.

Upon leaving college, Margaret was expected to earn a living; but opportunities for women were limited and many turned to teaching. Margaret Gascoigne worked as a governess and later as a classroom teacher.

In 1912, she decided to move to the "colonies" and was hired at Miss Edgar's & Miss Cramp's School in Montreal. But the school's founders' philosophy of education clashed with that of the young Margaret Gascoigne and she resigned her post after only one year.

Undeterred, she borrowed $20, rented a room and took in private pupils for coaching in her study. She dreamed of having a little school of her own by 1914; then World War 1 intervened. But her friends encouraged her to pursue her plans and in September 1915 she opened her school in a room on Drummond Street in downtown Montreal. There were six pupils.

Those early days were relaxed and happy. Books were scarce and expensive, so Margaret Gascoigne would read aloud to her students and recited poetry for them to memorize. One of her early students later recalled that Miss Gascoigne was very enthusiastic, dynamic and scatterbrained. It was all rather haphazard, but somehow the lack of system worked.

In 1916, the school moved to more spacious premises and remained there for the next two terms, until these also became too small to accommodate the 22 students. On April 5, 1917, The Study rented a house (never mind that the rent was borrowed!) on Sherbrooke St., just west of Guy St.

"Now I have a real school," remarked Margaret Gascoigne when her school opened the following September, with 56 girls. Although it was generally known as "Miss Gascoigne's School" - if not "Gassie's" or "The Gasworks" - she always called it "The Study".

It was a real school, but not like other schools. The timetable and curriculum were extremely fluid and the emphasis was on spontaneity and stimulus. While educational theories were quite clear in Miss Gascoigne's head - and 50 years ahead of their time - their practical application was experimental in the extreme. Anything might happen at any time. Sometimes, an entire morning would be taken up with music, as Miss Gascoigne played Beethoven, Chopin or Liszt. By and large, the children grew and thrived and were happy in this atmosphere.

The one blot on the landscape was Margaret Gascoigne's beloved Spaniel, "Sweep". The girls were terrified of him, for he nipped them whenever they had to visit the office. The staff also detested him.

The Study's early staff numbered five. Mlle Boucher - later Madame Gaudion - had been there almost from the beginning. One of her close friends was Miss Ethel Seath, who agreed to give up her job as a commercial artist to come and teach art at The Study. The many Seath paintings that adorn the walls of the school serve as a testament of her talent and influence over her 45-year tenure. The "games Mistress" Mrs. Rowlands later claimed that her only qualification for the job was being the youngest person on staff.

In 1918, four more teachers joined the school and one of them - Miss Sophie Edwards - was a real sensation. Not only had she been a governess to the royal family of Greece, she had married the brother of one of her pupils. Another colourful character was Mlle Boucher's sister, Mrs. Ritchie, who taught history - her chief qualification being that she was distantly related to Charlotte Corday, who murdered Marat in his bath. And there was the greatly loved Miss Hague. Apart from her exceptional teaching and her beautiful clothes, there were fringe benefits to those who had her as their form mistress: a picnic on the mountain in the summer and voluntary knitting groups in her home on Dorchester Street, with pastries and ginger ale.

During The Study's first year on Sherbrooke St. the position of Head Girl was established and Margaret Gordon was Head Girl of the first class that graduated from The Study. It was also during these years that the system of student government was developed. Student representatives were elected by their colleagues and rules for the school were drawn up.

Several years later Miss Gascoigne introduced the house system. The "Upper School" was divided into two houses - MG (for Margaret Gordon) and KR (for Kathleen Rosamund). In 1927 two new houses were formed - BL (for Beatrice Lyman) and DB (for Dorothy Benson). The house system was based on points - plus points for excellents and minus points for rules and later returns and detentions.

By June 1920 the school was full to bursting and the hunt was on for larger quarters. Eventually they were found - the Ewing House at the corner of Cote des Neiges and Seaforth Avenue. This would be the school's home until 1960.

A Board of Governors was established and The Study Corporation was incorporated on December 29, 1922. The financial statements from the Board's first meeting show that the cash in the bank as of August 1922 was $56.79.

By 1929 the school had a healthy surplus; then came the stock market crash and the Depression. At first there were a couple of withdrawals; then five; then 25. Staff salaries were cut and expenses pared to a minimum. All of this took a toll on Miss Gascoigne's health. In January1934 she underwent a major operation - for breast cancer - and on November 16, she passed away.

The new Headmistress, Mary Harvey, had a B.A. from McGill and a M.A. from Radcliffe College and had worked at several schools, including Bishop Strachan School in Toronto. Here is how she described The Study shortly after her arrival: "This is a distinctly individual school, with its own personality, propensities, tastes and moods ... youth and growth are the words that sum up my impression. May we always remain young and always have the power to grow."

With the onset of World War II, attention shifted to the outside world, with older girls helping their mothers in canteens and hospitals and getting involved in various fund-raising activities. It was at this time that another Study tradition - the annual fall bazaar - was born. The first bazaar, held on October 7, 1942, raised $416.50 - quite a substantial sum of money at the time.

Following the war, the school experienced a period of calm. But change was coming; Miss Harvey decided to retire. Her successor was Miss Katharine Lamont, B.A. Toronto, M.A. Oxon and head of the history department of Bishop Strachan School in Toronto.

The Seaforth building was growing terribly cramped and rundown. In 1959 a house was found on the corner of Braeside Place in Westmount and an architect was hired to draw up plans. The move took place in April 1960. Four years later The Study was already short of space and the Board of Governors bought the Randiccio house up the hill at 5 Braeside Place. The new quarters made a wonderful home for the Lower School.

In her final report to the Corporation prior to her retirement in 1970, Miss Lamont wrote: "I have had more satisfaction here and more entertainment than I would have considered possible - it is a temptation to say that it has been more fun than a box of monkeys, which it sometimes resembles... I leave the school with a sense of hope and confidence. It has always had - it was always intended to have - the creative power to change and adapt and to absorb the changes and adaptations for its own purposes."