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1953: Hilda Neatby’s So Little for the Mind published

An unlikely bestseller published in 1953 made Professor of History Hilda Neatby the centre of a controversial debate about Canadian education.  Between 1949 and 1951 Neatby had been a member of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (also known as the Massey Commission) which led to the establishment of Canada Council and federal financial support for universities.  Her experience on this Commission, a review of the state of learning and culture in Canada, “left her with strong views on educational fundamentals” which led to So Little for the Mind.  As colleague David Farmer put it, So Little for the Mind was “a scathing analysis of the Dewey-dominated pap provided by the provincial educational systems.  From her own experience, she condemned egalitarianism in the classroom, and deplored the moral and intellectual insecurity caused in both bright and dull children by the assumption that neither of them existed.”  The book had critics and supporters; it was debated “in all the news media, and in innumerable educational meetings, with the result that Dr. Neatby overnight became known as one of the most formidable and independent intellectuals in Canada.”1

Neatby’s analysis was that the press and the general public received the book with enthusiasm, but that “educational leaders” led a chorus of attacks.  In an article published in Maclean’s in 1954, Neatby responded to her critics in the education profession:  “Educators have surpassed themselves in the epithets applied to my scholarship, my style and my personality.  They owed it to me, and to the public whose attention they have endeavoured to engage, to examine and to answer my arguments also, and to do so with accuracy and with fairness.  This they have not done.”2

Neatby went on to become Head of the History Department in 1958.  She received many honours and awards, including Companion of the Order of Canada (in the first year of the Order), election to the Royal Society of Canada, and several honorary degrees.  She died in 1975.3   In 2000, she was commemorated in Canada Post’s Millennium Collection of stamps.4


1953a: Hilda Neatby. Photograph Collection, A-3321.


1. Faculty Biographies Collection, Hilda Neatby file.
2. Maclean’s, 15 July 1954. Reprinted in So Much to Do, So Little Time.
3. Faculty Biographies Collection, Hilda Neatby file.
4. On Campus News, 15 September 2000.

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