Series: Personal Encounters With Primary Resources for Canadian Sci/Tech History 

Sub-Series 1: Exploring Archival Resources at the University of Toronto


Blog 2

Who Was Miss Ashall?

By: David Orenstein

First Posted on Friday, August 28, 2020
Last updated Friday, August 28, 2020

** (Continued from CSTHA Blog Post “American as Apple Pie: Stealing Canadian Credit”, posted Friday, August 21, 2020) **

In the last blog I told you about the C. A. Chant-E. C. Pickering correspondence, from 1917, concerning Miss Ashall and her Variable Star, SW Lacertae.

But who was she?

I already knew that the University Calendars of that period published lists of students, so I took down the 1917-18 and 1918-19 calendars from the shelf on the reading room wall. Under “Faculty of Arts / Graduate Students / Masters Students” I found “Ashall, Miss F. M. …. Toronto”.

At the time I didn’t think of looking for a Master’s thesis, an oversight I now regret because it is inaccessible in these pandemic times.

I now had her initials and hometown. I asked the archivist on duty where I might find more. I was directed to the file card index of the Graduate Clippings Records (Accession A73-0026) where there was an entry for Frances Mabel Ashall in Box 12, File 75.

When retrieved, this consisted of a sheet of newspaper clippings on the death and probate of her father, William Ashall, and a small clipping of her graduate photo from the yearbook, Torontonensis 1906, Volume 8, her graduating year:

William Ashall died September 15, 1925. He served for “many years as keeper of the city’s clocks….He was an authority on time.” A propitious family background for a budding astronomer. Frances Mabel Ashall shared equally with four sisters and two brothers in the family home at 442 Sherbourne St., valued at $8,000 (the price of a modest landscaping job in the current Toronto real estate market) and a personal estate of $24,422.

Frances’ Alumni Card lists her full name, high school she graduated from (Jarvis C. I,), home address (Yes, it was 442 Sherbourne.), her four years of undergraduate study, 1902-06, plus the 1908 summer session, along with her faculty (Arts), college (Victoria) and her three degrees: B.A. (1906), M.A. (1917), B. Paed. (1925).

There are regular updates on her address and her career as a high school mathematics teacher (just like I was) until her retirement by December 17, 1945, and her passing on: December 5, 1969.

Also available was the Registrar of the University of Toronto, published 1920, listing all graduates to date with their degrees, address and /or place of occupation. On (p. 94):

Arts – Victoria College (Graduates in Science)

1906 B.A. Ashall, Frances Mabel

1917 M.A. 442 Sherbourne St. or Technical School, Toronto

(That would be today’s Central Technical School, at the corner of Bathurst and Harbord Streets, just a few blocks west of the U of T Archives.)

The 1906-7 University Calendar listed on p. 158 of the Appendix:

Graduates in Arts Victoria College

1906 B.A. Ashall, Frances Mabel  …. 33 Seaton St., Toronto

and also

1876 B.A. Coleman, Arthur P. (the renowned geologist)

1880 M.A.  School of Practical Science, Toronto

I was provided with Ashall’s University Transcript as a photocopy from a microform reel. This reel also contained transcripts for students who studied less than a hundred years ago or who were still alive or had died less than thirty years ago. These are the conditions that prevent records from being automatically open to researchers.

Unfortunately, Frances’ transcript was rather skimpy. Where we were hoping to see all her courses and marks, we only saw her programme (Honours Mathematics and Physics in her first three years, Honours Physics Year 4) and her honours class and standing. Oh yes, checking that she had taken the requisite Arts courses in 1st year: Latin, French, English and Religious Knowledge.

I ordered up Box 001 of the Chant correspondence and took out the File AR-AS.  Among others I found just one from “F. Mabel Ashall (’06)”.

From Welland, Ontario, December 7, 1911, and answered December 13, Mabel wrote “Do you know of any other kind of work that my education might fit me for? I am so tired of teaching….I like the actual teaching…[but] I cannot stand the night work any longer…. You always have been kind in the past.”

Chant’s answer doesn’t appear in the files.

For more background information on Ashall’s undergraduate life at Victoria College, I was directed to that College’s own Archives in their E.J.  Pratt Library, which also houses the A.P. Coleman Papers. But that’s another story.

** (See forthcoming Blog Post “Frances and Victoria: BFFs?” ) **

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