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Profiles of Alberta Women

Geneva Misener

Personal life

Geneva Misener was born to William and Esther Misener on May 20, 1877 in Wainfleet, Ontario. A middle child, Geneva had four brothers: Hartford, Frank, Blake, and William Elson. As a young girl she attended primary school in Welland and started her secondary education at Welland High School. While she was in high school her family moved to Niagara Falls, where Geneva attended Niagara Falls Collegiate Vocational Institute (NFCVI). It was while attending NFCVI that Geneva developed an interest in the field of classics. One of her teachers, Eliza Fitzgerald, was among the first women to graduate from Queen’s University. Fitzgerald had graduated with a major in classics, and passed her passion on to her students, including young Geneva.


After graduating high school, Geneva attended Queen’s University in Kingston, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Master of Arts, focusing on the field of classics and the Greek and Latin languages. At Queen’s she was taught by Professor of Greek John MacNaughton and Professor of Latin T. R Glover. Geneva asserted herself as a meritorious student, serving as an assistant in Latin in the final year of her MA, and upon graduating in 1899 receiving a gold medal for outstanding academic achievement in Greek and Latin.

Following her graduation, Geneva promptly dove into doctoral studies, enrolling in classics at the University of Chicago. While in Chicago Geneva lived with her uncle Sidney Misener, who ran a men’s clothing store in the area. Wasting little time, Geneva graduated with a PhD in classics in 1903, with a dissertation titled The Meaning of Γap.

Professional work

Within a year of graduating, Geneva obtained a position as the head of the classics department at Rockford College in Chicago, a position she held until 1909. While at Rockford she continued her professional development, particularly in the field of archaeology. She travelled to Italy and Greece to attend lectures on archaeology, and in 1908 accompanied German architect and archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld on a tour of Greece.

In 1909, after leaving Rockford, Geneva became dean at the Kenwood Institute for Girls, a school from which graduates would enter post-secondary institutions in the area, including the University of Chicago. After a few years in that position, in 1912 Geneva returned to Canada, spending some time at St. John’s Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba before coming to the University of Alberta in December of 1913.

Arriving at the University of Alberta in the 1912/1913 academic year, Geneva started as a lecturer in Latin and as advisor to women students. This position marked the first appointment of a woman to the academic staff of the University of Alberta, and the second appointment of a classicist, the first being William Hardy Alexander in 1908 when the university opened. Geneva was promoted to assistant professor of Latin in 1914 and associate professor in 1920. Throughout her career she taught a variety of subjects, offering language courses in Greek and Latin as well as courses on Greek and Roman political thought, social and economic history, and ancient art. While at the University of Alberta she was appointed to the university’s senate, holding a position as a member from 1926 to 1928. She also retained her connections to the academy in America, sometimes returning to teach summer sessions at the University of Chicago, and in 1939-1940 taking a sabbatical to study at the University of California.


Throughout her life, Geneva was involved in many organizations and actions to advocate for women’s education and women’s rights, particularly those of working and professional women. In 1914, at a meeting of the Equal Franchise League in Edmonton, she argued for women’s suffrage, contributing to the eventual passage of the Equal Suffrage Bill in Alberta in 1916. From 1913 to 1920 she served as the University of Alberta’s first advisor to female students, for a time also living on campus and serving as warden in the women’s residence. She was involved with the university’s Wauneita club (later the Wauneita Society), an association for female students with which she planned instruction on the status of women.

Her work also included addressing professional women’s issues such as the balance of marriage and a career, and equal work for equal pay. She was a member of the Edmonton University Women’s Club, and the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), founded in 1919. Geneva was involved with the CFUW from the start, participating in the organizational meeting in Winnipeg in 1919, and speaking on the importance of a woman being able to pursue a professional career without sacrificing marriage, or vice-versa. She was a true pioneer of that message, pushing it at a time when even fellow members of the CFUW would not all have agreed with her.1

With the CFUW Geneva chaired the Education Committee, which pushed for change in areas such as high school attendance, education standards, and support for rural students.2 Geneva produced a report on education for the CFUW first triennial meeting in Toronto in 1920, where members from ten clubs across Canada were represented. Her report was one of two reports for action, the other dealing with job opportunities for university women. Geneva’s report on education for women and girls called for research into teaching as a profession for women, particularly the professional status of teachers, and suggested higher qualifications and more training for teachers. The report also made the case for more high school opportunities for children, better financing of secondary education across Canada, and an appropriate salary schedule for teachers. On the last point, among the suggestions was the notion of equal pay for equal work, a principle that was not in common discussion or demand at the time.3

In 1924 Geneva served with the Amateur Hockey Association of Alberta (AAHA) as the ladies’ representative on the executive committee, later becoming the vice president and running the ladies’ branch in Alberta. In the late 1920s and early 1930s she volunteered with the Pan-Pacific Women’s Association (PPWA), a peace organization formed in the aftermath of the First World War. Geneva attended the PPWA’s third conference in Honolulu, and prepared a study on education for them along with Dr. Ursilla Logie Macdonnell from the University of Manitoba. In 1937 she worked with the National Council of Women, serving as the Convener of Education. Geneva also became involved with the social-democratic political party the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in the early 1940s. In August of 1941 she participated in a ten-day CCF summer school in Elk Island Park, where she taught attendees. She would continue to work with the CCF, serving as a program convenor, advisor to youth, and in a variety of other capacities after her retirement from professorship at the University of Alberta in 1944.4

Geneva passed away on June 8th, 1961 in Vancouver, BC. The various academic institutions where she learned, taught, and advocated for female students and educators have recognized her with the creation of a variety of scholarships. These include the Geneva Misener Scholarship in Social Sciences and the Geneva Misener Entrance Scholarship at Queen’s University, and the Dr. Geneva Misener Memorial Scholarship in Classics and the Dr. Geneva Misener Memorial Scholarship in Modern Languages at the University of Alberta, the latter of which was funded by a bequest of Geneva herself.

Dr. Geneva Misener broke ground at the University of Alberta, both as the first woman professor and as one of the university’s first classicists. Throughout her career, she used her position of power and influence to further the causes of women’s education and women’s rights, both provincially through the Wauneita club, the University Senate, and the Equal Franchise League, and federally through the Canadian Federation of University Women. Her work and her belief that women should not have to choose between a profession and a marriage make her a pioneer in the history of women’s activism in Alberta.

Read more about Geneva Misener


1 Mary Kinnear, Margaret McWilliams: An Interwar Feminist (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991), 159.

2 Dianne Dodd, Our 100 Years: The Canadian Federation of University Women (Toronto: Second Story Press, 2020).

3 Kinnear, Margaret McWilliams, 77.

4 M. Ann Hall, “Geneva Misener: Biographical Timeline,” unpublished notes, 2013.

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