Women's History Month Part 1: Dr. Allie Vibert Douglas

October 02, 2017

Written by: Alicen Ricard

October is Women’s History month in Canada and to celebrate we will be posting a series of four blog posts over the course of the month, one for each letter of STEM, profiling historical Canadian women in science, technology, engineering, and math. We’re going to kick off Women’s History month with our woman in science, Dr. Allie Vibert Douglas.

Queen's Archives

Dr. Vibert Douglas was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1894. She and her brother, George, grew up with their grandmother after their parents died in 1904. George helped out his sister when she wasn’t allowed to join the science club in high school because she was a girl. George left the door open so she could sit outside and still listen to the lectures. She received a scholarship for McGill University after graduating at the top of her class.

She attended McGill for physics and mathematics until her brother was enlisted in World War I. When her brother was enlisted, she moved with him to England, where she worked as a statistician in London. She received a Silver Cross of the order of the British Empire for the work she did—she was only twenty-three years old! After the war ended, she continued her studies at McGill and got her Undergraduate degree in 1920, and her masters in physics in 1921.

Queen's University

After that she moved back to England to attend Cambridge University. There she studied astronomy under Arthur Eddington. She actually ended up writing his biography later because of how close she was with him.

She moved back to Canada to get her PhD in astrophysics at McGill in 1926. She was the first woman in Canada to do this. After that she stayed at McGill for 14 years to teach physics and astrophysics before she moved on to Queens University in 1939 where she became the Dean of Women and taught physics. Her research focused on spectroscopic absolute magnitudes of stars and the stark effect in stellar atmospheres. She stayed at Queens until she retired in 1964.

Douglas History

Dr. Allie Vibert Douglas has made a huge impact for women in STEM, as she was named “Woman of the Century” by the National Council of Jewish Women in 1967. That same year she was also inducted into the Order of Canada. She was a popular speaker at lectures and also wrote articles on astronomy. In 1988, the year she died, she had both asteroid 3269 and a crater on Venus (the Vibert Douglas Patera) named after her.

“Throughout the ages intellectual progress has been due to three attributes of mankind – a deeply implanted, insatiable curiosity; a far-reaching, unrestrainable, unfetterable imagination; and an undaunted faith that there is order in the universe, an underlying harmony in nature…. You cannot solve the riddles of the stars without invoking the aid of the atom, nor can you fully comprehend the atom without the aid of the stars. On the uplifting wings of imagination the astrophysicist roams the universe from atom to atom, from star to star, from star to atom, from atom to star. Impelled by curiosity regarding the natural universe, encouraged by evidences for his faith in the reality of cosmic harmony, he presses on and on – a sweet and fitting thing it is to toil for Truth.”
-“From Atoms to Stars” – Allie Vibert Douglas, 1929

To read more stories about awesome Canadian women in history, visit the Famous Canadian Women website run by Girl Guides leader and former librarian, Dawn Monroe, here.