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In 1920, Llewellyn May Jones (née Reese), graduated from King’s. She’s believed to be the first female engineer in Canada.
Jones was born in Springhill, N.S., in 1899. She was the daughter of a mining family, and her father encouraged her to pursue studies to become an engineer. After attending St. Francis Xavier University for two years, she transferred to King’s where she completed her engineering education.
Jones graduated in 1920, and was, at the time, only the second female valedictorian in King’s history. Her valedictory address referenced the tumultuous period they had all just lived through:
“…[the] Class ’20 made its advent in College under the dark cloud of war in the autumn of ’16. In the second year its number began to diminish. Some answered the call of duty, other members have gone to other professions and other universities, and now the original class is almost without representation.
During the last four years King’s has undoubtedly passed through the most difficult period in her History. To Dr. Boyle, our esteemed President…we owe a debt of gratitude for guiding us safely amid the most disheartening conditions.
With peace came great hope for King’s, and last autumn we welcome many of our old students returning from France. How gratifying it was to know that every available room in the College was taken…”
Jones also referenced the great fire of Feb. 5, 1920 that burned the original King’s campus in Windsor, N.S. to the ground in her final year, and again displayed her pluckiness by writing of the campaign to fundraise $600,000 to rebuild King’s, “…may King’s continue to win fame and glory in the future as she has in the past!”
After graduating in 1920, Jones moved to Alberta. In a later interview when she reflected back on this time, she said when applying to jobs related to her field, she came to realize employers “only wanted a Girl Friday.” Not interested in taking such a role, she returned to school, earning an education degree and going on to teach high school sciences. She was by then married to Sid Jones, another King’s alumnus.
During the Second World War, Jones finally had the opportunity to work in engineering, taking up a position as Assistant to the Chief Geologist for the provincial engineering board. She left once the war ended so that the returning servicemen could take the job. In her later years, she worked as a teacher and philanthropist in positions with the University Women’s Club in Alberta, and sat on symphony music boards.
She visited King’s during a return to Springhill in the 1970s, where King’s Librarian Patricia Chalmers, BA(Hons)’80, had the opportunity to meet her. (see sidebar)
Then in 1978, at the age of 79, Jones received an MA from the University of Calgary. Her thesis explored the history of the oil and gas industry of Alberta until 1947. She spent her final years working to develop exhibits of that history for museums in Ottawa. Jones died in 1986.
Llewellyn May Jones is like many of our past alumni trailblazers: ready and willing to help and make strides for others, tireless in her interests. Her achievements have been obscured by the lack of history in the field of engineering, but in the 70s she herself said that if she were not the first female engineer, she was certainly among the first several. King’s own history of scientific and engineering education is often indistinct from that of Dalhousie’s, but it’s important to remember that our interdisciplinary model of education which includes studying scientific texts in the Foundation Year Program, and includes an upper years honours program in a the History of Science and Technology, is born of its legacy.
With the centennial anniversary of King’s fire happening this year, it does us well to remember the lasting impact that alumni from that era have had on King’s and society. Llewellyn May Jones, a trailblazing pioneer, serves as an example to alumni and current students that the work done at this university has lasting impact. Sometimes, though, it takes a bit of uncovering to rediscover these stories. But King’s students not only know how to find them, but how to make history themselves.