LABELLE, IDA, teacher and school principal; b. 10 Sept. 1848 in Montreal, daughter of Joseph Labelle, a carpenter, and Eusèbe (Eusébie) Paquin; d. there 21 Jan. 1910 in the Hôtel-Dieu.
Little is known about Ida Labelle’s family or her childhood. She is believed to have studied at the academy of Rosine Poitras in Montreal. On 19 Oct. 1863, when she was barely fifteen, she opened a French and English school for young ladies on Rue Mignonne (Boulevard de Maisonneuve). The very first year, 32 pupils, from four to fourteen years of age, registered at the establishment, where they were taught courses that included French, English, arithmetic, history, music, sewing, and embroidery. In August 1870 Labelle received a first-class elementary school diploma from the Montreal Board of Examiners. Twenty years later the Roman Catholic Board of School Commissioners hired her as principal of the Académie Sainte-Marie, a model school for girls and boys in grades 5 and 6 located at 174 Rue Amherst. In 1891 it had a teaching staff of 6 and a student body of 123 girls and 57 boys, all French Canadian and Catholic. Inspector Joseph-Georges-Walter McGown, in his report of July 1892, ranked it as one of the two best among those in the city that had female lay teachers as principals and received grants based on enrolment.
During her career as principal of the Académie Sainte-Marie, Labelle staffed it with the finest of teachers, such as Arthur Letondal and Victoria (Prudence-Victorine-Alexandrine) Cartier, who gave the music classes. One of the staff, Marie Bourbonnière, who seems to have been a close friend, assisted the principal with her duties and would succeed her after her death. Thanks to Labelle’s gifts as an educator and administrator, the academy flourished.
On the basis of her experience as a teacher and principal of the Académie Sainte-Marie, Labelle reached the conclusion that the subjects taught to girls were too limited. She called for a broadening of the curriculum so that the maximum intellectual potential of female students in the province could be developed and their skills diversified. At the first congress of the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste [see Marie Lacoste*] in May 1907, she urged that an advanced school for girls be established, which would graduate “genuine teachers of language, practical sciences, and arts; these teachers will complete the studies begun at the convent or the academy, whether they be called philosophy, literature, commerce, stenography, typing, music, or painting.” In her view, this elevation of women into the higher spheres of learning was essential for a people eager to achieve moral and intellectual progress.
Although Labelle openly pressed for such an institution, which she also termed a “post-secondary undertaking,” she was careful to use the specific term school and not university or college for girls. As she explained in her speech at the second congress of the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, in June 1909, she did not want to frighten men: “These names belong to them by right and smack too much of domination, which I do not want to dispute with them.” She did her best to reassure men by emphasizing the fact that educated women still have “their heart” and would not become ipso facto “bluestockings” or treat others in a condescending manner. She also asserted that a woman educated would not necessarily neglect her activities as a wife, mother, and mistress of the house. In her opinion, there was nothing more wholesome for an individual – whether male or female – than to engage in both intellectual and physical activities.
Labelle was also concerned about improving the status of teaching as a profession for women and making it “at least as lucrative as other careers open to educated women.” She was a founding member of the first association of Catholic women teachers in the province in 1901 and was elected its president in May 1909. When she died, La Presse recognized the important role she had played in the world of education, particularly in the advancement of education for girls: “In the person of Mademoiselle Ida Labelle . . . we have lost a woman of high intellectual culture who had an outstanding career marked by devotion and charity. In educational circles, where she had long been at the forefront, her death will leave a void that will be very difficult to fill.”
The two talks given by Ida Labelle, “Conférence sur les œuvres post-scolaires” and “L’enseignement comme carrière pour les femmes,” were published in Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Premier congrès . . . tenu les 26–27–28–29–30 mai 1907 à Montréal (Montréal, 1907), 115–17, and Deuxième congrès . . . tenu les 23–25–26 juin 1909 à Montréal (Montréal, 1909), 73–74, respectively.
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Montréal), 24 janv. 1910. ANQ-M, CE1-51, 10 sept. 1848. Arch. de la Commission des Écoles Catholiques de Montréal, Reg. des délibérations du Bureau des commissaires d’écoles catholiques romains de la cité de Montréal, 1850–1910. La Presse, 21 janv. 1910. “Association des institutrices de Montréal,” L’Enseignement primaire (Québec), 31 (1909–10): 36, 508. “Feu Mlle Ida Labelle,” L’Enseignement primaire, 31: 448. Madeleine [A.-M.] Gleason-Huguenin, Portraits de femmes ([Montréal], 1938), 170. [L.-A. Huguet-Latour], Annuaire de Ville-Marie, origine, utilité et progrès des institutions catholiques de Montréal . . . (2v., Montréal, 1863–82). Journal de l’Instruction publique (Québec et Montréal), 14 (1870): 96. Lovell’s historic report of census of Montreal (Montreal, ), 64. Qué., Parl., Doc. de la session, 1892–1910 (annual report of the superintendent of public instruction). Marie Thivierge, “Les institutrices laïques à l’école primaire catholique, au Québec, de 1890 à 1964” (thèse de phd, univ. Laval, Québec, 1981).