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INCH, JAMES ROBERT, educator; b. 29 April 1835 in New Jerusalem, N.B., eighth of the nine children of Nathaniel Inch and Ann Armstrong; m. 26 July 1854 Mary Alice Dunn (d. 1904), probably in Fredericton, and they had one daughter; d. 13 Oct. 1912 in Amherst, N.S.

James Inch’s parents, with their first three children, had migrated from Ederney Bridge (Northern Ireland) to New Jerusalem in 1824, settling there when it was a wilderness area. Inch received his early education in the village and at the grammar school in neighbouring Gagetown. He then went to the provincial Normal School in Saint John, where he received his first-class teacher’s licence in 1850. He began his career in Keswick and in 1854 accepted a position at the Wesleyan Academy at Mount Allison in Sackville, teaching in both the male and the female branches. When Mount Allison Wesleyan College was opened in 1862, he joined its faculty and also enrolled as a student. In 1864, the year he received his ba, he became vice-principal of the ladies’ academy and in 1869, two years after obtaining his ma, he was made principal.

As principal, Inch was on the senate of the college when, in 1872, he moved that “ladies having regularly matriculated and completed the course of study prescribed by this board shall be entitled to receive the degrees in the arts and faculties upon the same terms and conditions as are now or may hereafter be imposed upon male students of the college.” The motion was carried and in 1875, as a result of his vision, Mount Allison conferred on Grace Annie Lockhart the first bachelor’s degree (in science and English literature) given a woman in the British empire. Seven years later another student, Harriet Starr Stewart, became the first woman in Canada to receive a ba. By that time, in 1878, Inch had succeeded David Allison* as president of the college, which in the same year awarded him an lld honoris causa. In this position he began a modest building program. It was necessitated in part by a growing number of students (the enrolment rose from 41 in 1878 to 107 in 1891), but he also wished to improve the educational facilities. In 1884 the combined arts and administration building was opened and toward the end of his term in 1891 the conservatory of music was constructed.

While on the faculty of the Mount Allison institutions Inch taught, from time to time, rhetoric, French, German, logic, English literature, and mental philosophy. A popular and respected educator, he was always ready to challenge his students. While principal of the ladies’ academy he once visited a class that was attempting to identify the source of famous quotations. Quite extemporaneously, he added one more for their consideration. This was in the same vein as the others but the students were unable to solve it. It was from the Book of Judges.

In religion Inch was a Methodist and he participated fully in the work of this denomination, both on the local level and in the wider church. He was a delegate to all the Canadian general conferences from 1878 to 1910. He was also a member of the decennial Methodist ecumenical conferences of 1891 (Washington), 1901 (London, England), and 1911 (Toronto).

In 1891 Inch accepted the position of chief superintendent of education in New Brunswick, an office that carried with it the presidency of the senate of the University of New Brunswick, and he moved to Fredericton. Throughout his tenure he was concerned to raise standards in the schools, to improve the financial situation of teachers, to encourage, and if necessary oblige, school districts to assume more responsibility for education, and to increase local funding for schools. Many of the programs he recommended took the best part of the next century to implement.

Inch’s wisdom and foresight showed quickly. He began by proposing in 1891 that grammar schools which failed to achieve a standard of equipment and a certain number of advanced pupils should cease to rank as grammar schools and thus have their grants reduced. The next year he recommended the founding of a kindergarten department in connection with the Normal School, and he also established examination regulations for grammar school leaving and university matriculation. By 1893 local examinations were in place for admission to the Normal School and also for the preliminary testing of teachers seeking a higher class of licence; Inch hoped that by eliminating the expense of a trip to Fredericton he would encourage larger numbers to enter teaching and, once there, to improve their qualifications. These reforms were followed by a revised course of studies for all schools, implemented in 1894, and this included the first authorized courses for high schools.

In 1896 Inch recommended the consolidation of school districts, then numbering 1,600, some of which had only one class and barely a half-dozen pupils. The consolidated districts would have larger schools and transportation would be provided at public expense for those pupils at too great a distance to walk. He hoped that consolidation would also alleviate the problem of low pay among teachers and thus encourage qualified persons to remain in the profession. By 1899 he was urging the province to take the initiative in consolidation because otherwise the apathy of district ratepayers would see that no change was made. His prediction was correct: by 1908 only four consolidated schools had been established. Another of his recommendations was that pupils be required to attend school, and an act to provide for compulsory attendance was passed by the legislature in 1906. Since it was optional for school districts to implement it, the act remained a dead letter, however, with only Fredericton and Saint John making an effort to put it into practice.

In 1909, on account of his age and failing health, Dr Inch relinquished his position and returned to Sackville, where he made his home. That year he received an lld honoris causa from the University of New Brunswick and the legislature voted him a year’s salary, $2,500, “in recognition of his long and valuable service.” His abilities had been widely recognized. He was appointed, in 1876, a fellow and member of the senate of the University of Halifax. In 1886 he was elected vice-president for New Brunswick of the American Institute of Christian Philosophy, and in 1895 he became vice-president of the Dominion Educational Association. He was made a member of the Geographic Board of Canada in 1905. Two years later he was a delegate to the League of the Empire’s Federal Conference on Education, held in London. In October 1912 his health required surgery in Amherst, from which he did not recover.

Graeme F. Somerville

James Robert Inch is the author of “Historical sketch of education in New Brunswick,” in Canada, an encyclopædia (Hopkins), 3: 225–34. His reports as chief superintendent appear in N.B., Dept. of Education, Annual report of the schools of New Brunswick (Fredericton), 1891–1909.

Mount Allison Univ. Arch. (Sackville, N.B.), 7719 (Dorothy Hunton papers); 7729 (A. P. James, [History of Mount Allison’s presidents], based on research paper for History 4100, 1976); Biog. files, “James Robert Inch” (n.d.); Mount Allison Univ., Board of regents, minutes of meetings; Senate, minutes of meetings. PANB, RS160, L4, C: 177. Morning Telegraph (Saint John), 12 July 1866. Tribune (Sackville), 14, 17 Oct. 1912. The Inch family of Ulster, Ireland, and New Brunswick, Canada, comp. J. R. Inch (Sackville, 1912). N.B., Acts, 1909, c.15. J. G. Reid, Mount Allison University: a history, to 1963 (2v., Toronto, 1984).

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Cite This Article

Graeme F. Somerville, “INCH, JAMES ROBERT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/inch_james_robert_14E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/inch_james_robert_14E.html
Author of Article:   Graeme F. Somerville
Title of Article:   INCH, JAMES ROBERT
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   September 28, 2023