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Historical Plaque

Mary Urie Watson

Mary Urie Watson 1866-1950

Principal, Macdonald Institute, 1904-1920

Mary Watson was born in Ayr, Ontario, and educated in Toronto. She moved to the United States to further her education in domestic science since no instituion in Canada provided such a program. Watson was a graduate of the Philidalphia Cooking School and also received a Teacher's College Bachelor's Diploma in Domestic Art from Columbia University in New York. After a brief teaching career in New York and Missouri, she returned to Canada in 1901 to become "lady principal" of Adelaide Hoodless' Ontario Normal School of Domestic Science and Art in Hamilton.

In 1903, the Ontario Normal School was transferred to the newly created Macdonald Institute in Guelph. Watson was named Head of the Home Economnics Department within the Insitute and reported to the Dean, Dr. W. H. Muldrew. She succeeded Muldrew as principal of the institute after his death in 1904, quite an accomplishment for a woman in those times.

Watson led Macdonald Institute in its early years, developing several programs and diplomas in domestic science, such as the two-year Housekeeping Certificate and popular three-month short courses. These courses focused on such topics as food and food chemistry, as well as housekeeping practices, including sewing, laundry, and household sanitation. Admission to such programs was offered first to rural women before urban applicants were considered. In 1904, the Macdonald Institute program was described in the United States as the only one that "trains housekeepers scientifically." Furthermore, these "skilled young women" were considered essential for operating modern hospitals.

Watson played a leading role in the early years of the American Home Economics Association, serving as the third Vice-Presidential, and was the only female member of the Canadian Food Board during World War One. Above all, she was known for her devotion to the Institute's students. She developed a close relationship with them that continued long after their graduation. Watson undertook the task of organizing the Institute's first reunion in 1920.