BINMORE, ELIZABETH, teacher; b. 1860 in Montreal, one of the three children of Thomas Binmore, a bookkeeper, and Mary C. Morton; d. there unmarried 24 Aug. 1917.
From 1875 to 1878 Elizabeth Binmore attended McGill Normal School, the only public institution then offering any higher form of instruction to English-speaking women of Montreal [see William Henry Hicks*]. She proved herself a capable student, earning each year one of the three available diplomas – elementary (1876), model (1877), and academy (1878). All diplomas were “valid as authorization to teach in any part of the Province of Quebec without limitation of time.” Thus, Binmore was well qualified to work and she began her career before she was 20. She taught at Bradford, Pa, and in the Protestant schools of Clarenceville, Longueuil, and Montreal, Que. From 1892 until 1905 she was a teacher at the Montreal Senior School, instructing mainly in mathematics, and the following year she taught mathematics and science at the Commercial and Technical School.
Opportunity for her to continue her own education had come after McGill College opened its faculty of arts to women in 1884. Binmore was among the pioneers, joining the third class of women at McGill and graduating with her ba in 1890. Among her eight classmates were Maude Elizabeth Seymour Abbott* and Carrie Matilda Derick*, both of whom were to achieve renown. Binmore also studied botany under David Pearce Penhallow* and in 1894 earned an ma with a thesis entitled “The anatomy of the fucaceæ.” She shared with Euphemia McLeod the distinction of being the first woman to earn a master’s degree at McGill. Binmore spent some summers at Harvard University, taking courses in botany in 1893 and chemistry in 1906 and 1907. She did not earn any diplomas for this work, since Harvard did not grant degrees to women until the mid 20th century.
With her unusual education and her extraordinary energy, Binmore brought fresh vitality to teaching. She worked in a number of ways to reduce reliance on rote learning and rules. She thought music should be joyful and French “natural.” She is credited with contributing to the local development of Sloyd, one of the important pedagogic innovations of the late 19th century. Sloyd, a term derived from a Swedish word for dexterity, was a system of manual training that was thought to have profound moral value, inculcating virtues such as perseverence, industry, independence, and respect for “good, honest labor.”
Binmore travelled extensively in Europe and was active in many educational groups, including the Alumnae Society of McGill University, of which she was president in 1897–98. She was also elected the first woman president of the Teachers’ Association of Montreal in 1896 and was on the executive of the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers in 1916.
She was committed to seeking better working conditions in the predominantly female occupation of teaching. As early as 1893 she had read a paper to the Teachers’ Association on the “Financial outlook of the women teachers of Montreal.” Her words have a decidedly contemporary ring in that she drew attention to the fact that she used “woman” rather than “lady” because the latter implied “a leisure class.” Her tone was strong and her message activist. She claimed that salaries were “too little for anyone to live upon for twelve months” and insisted that women teachers receive “a fair and just remuneration for labor conscientiously and successfully performed.”
Binmore’s social conscience was dramatically stirred into action in February 1907 after a school in Hochelaga (Montreal) caught fire. The headmistress, Sarah Maxwell, fearlessly tried to save the children but died in the blaze. A public campaign to honour the memory of this brave woman was headed by Elizabeth Binmore, educator and humanitarian. Binmore herself probably continued to teach until her death in 1917.
Arch. of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, Protestant Board of School Commissioners of the City of Montreal, annual reports, 1874–90, 1916–17. Harvard Univ. Arch. (Cambridge, Mass.), Course enrolment cards. McGill Univ. Arch. (Montreal), Acc. 145, no.4 (McGill Normal School, minute-book); RG 30 (faculty of education), c.6; RG 32 (faculty of arts), c.62. Mount Royal Cemetery Company (Outremont, Que.), Burial reg. Gazette (Montreal), 27 Feb. 1907, 25 Aug. 1917. The Alumnae Society of McGill University, 1889–1989; a century of involvement (Montreal, 1989). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Educational Record of the Prov. of Quebec, 4 (1884)–37 (1917). Margaret Gillett, We walked very warily: a history of women at McGill (Montreal, 1981). C. Johansson, “Manual training in Canada,” Educational Record of the Prov. of Quebec, 23 (1903): 1–9. McGill Univ., Annual calendar (Montreal), 1886–95.