The Forgotten Life of Fanny Hislop

With the end of another school year rapidly approaching, many students in the Durham District School Board will be recognised for outstanding academic achievement.  And in each Grade 8 class, an award with ties to Oshawa’s past will be given to the student with the highest overall average. This is the forgotten story  behind the Fanny Hislop Award.

By all accounts, Fanny Hislop should have led the life of a typical woman of the Victorian era, one that was centred around the home, marriage, and motherhood. She was born in Oshawa in 1858, and lived at the corner of Celina and Athol Streets in a well-kept house with her parents and sister, Sara Jane.  But in 1868 tragedy struck:  her father died, leaving her mother to raise Fanny and her sister on her own.

Perhaps it was her father’s early death that steered young Miss Hislop towards her own career, one that would give her financial stability and independence.  She had always been bright, and as a student had been recognised by the school board for outstanding academic achievement.  In fact, Fanny was the only student in Oshawa who passed the Intermediate exams in 1876, for which she was awarded a special prize.

Job options for Victorian women were limited, so Fanny pursued her teaching certification. At the age of 20, she was hired as the Grade One teacher at the Albert Street School in 1878, the school where she would spend her entire teaching career.

Miss Hislop never married, and retired in 1924 after achieving a salary of $550 per year as principal of the Albert Street School. Doubtless she would have an opinion or two on today’s school discipline strategies, as her preferred method of keeping children in line involved a sinister-looking horsewhip and a strap that hung menacingly off her her belt.

But even at the end of her life Fanny had academics on her mind, and made a provision in her will for the establishment of the Grade 8 scholarship that would be paid out of her estate.  The formidable Miss Hislop died July 27th, 1935 and is buried in Union Cemetery.  And the honour of the Fanny Hislop Award for top academic achievement is still given out in Oshawa’s schools today, nearly 100 years after her death.

There are plenty of stories from Oshawa’s past that can be found online at the Olive French Project, and the Oshawa Museum Blog