Queen’s University “dark” past


Ethelbert Bartholomew, a black medical student who was expelled from Queen’s when a ban on admitting black students to the
medical program came into effect. From left: Dr. Maria Bartholomew, great niece of Ethelbert, Daniel Bartholomew, son, and
Rosalyn Bartholomew, granddaughter, pose for a photo with Ethelbert Bartholomew’s graduating certificate in Kingston.

In 1918, Kingston, Ontario-based Queen’s University Faculty of Medicine expelled black students from the university. A small number of black students, mainly from the Caribbean, attended the medical school early in the century.

University leaders said that the school needed to ban Black medical students because veterans of the First World War who had returned to Kingston refused to be seen by them. The Black students themselves, however, claimed that they were not aware of any instances of such refusal.

From research that recently came to hand, it seems that the more likely explanation was that Queen’s was anxious to receive funding from the Carnegie and from Rockefeller Foundations. More likely, around 1917 the University had a “C” ranking and they sought to raise the ranking in order to qualify for the funding. This resulted in the expulsion of 15 black medical students; it must have worked because later that year they received a “B” ranking.

The Queen’s Senate supported Dean James Connell’s recommendation that the students be transferred to cities with larger black populations. There is no clear record of where the students ended their studies, though it is likely that many went to Dalhousie, where Connell had recommended transferring them.

Black students were not permitted to return to medical studies until after the Second World War.

An Associated Press report made reference to research done by Edward Thomas, a part-time PhD student at Queen’s, which unearthed the unsavoury history of one of Canada’s top universities that is now considered to be in the “Ivy League” category.

Thomas featured a story of Trinidad-born Ethelbert Bartholomew, one of the 15 students who were expelled. At the time Mr. Bartholomew was in his fourth year and in good academic standing; he also a sterling attendance record.

“These injustices have a real effect way down the road,” said his great-niece Dr. Maria Bartholomew, who travelled from Trinidad to Queen’s in the spring to accept an honorary degree for her great-uncle.

According to the AP report: “The university in Kingston, Ont., apologized earlier this year for the ban — which was established in 1918 and enforced until 1965 — and vowed to take further steps to address past discrimination. A portion of the first-year medical curriculum is now being dedicated to discussing the ban and its long-lasting effects…; when medical students begin classes at Queen’s University this fall, they’ll be taught for the first time about the school’s decades-long ban on admitting black applicants to the program.”