Thomasina Fraser entered the Presbyterian Missionary and Deaconess Training Home from Collingwood, Ontario in the fall of 1911 and graduated in 1913. After her designation by the Presbytery of Toronto, she was appointed to work at the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, where she served as a Deaconess until 1915. She does not appear on the Deaconess Appointment List after that, and in 1924 the Historic List of Presbyterian Deaconesses notes that she is now Mrs. Glenn, and was “retired through marriage”, perhaps in 1915.
The legacy of Indian Residential Schools is not one the church takes pride in. There were Deaconesses who served in the schools from the early 1900s until the 1960s. Their legacy is a mixed one. By and large, the women were good people. Some protested the situations they encountered but in the face of insurmountable odds, most of them simply left the school. Nothing is known about Thomasina and her two years at the school. A careful examination of school records could reveal something about her.
In 1902, the Cecilia Jeffrey school near Kenora, Ontario opened, named after the first secretary of Indian work for the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society, appointed in 1896. It was originally built for 40 children (enlarged for 62 in 1926). The school was built at the request of the local First Nation, and the founding agreement clearly shows that the band requested the school and laid down some conditions. This was quite unusual for the times.
By 1908, over 500 children were attending Presbyterian schools. An important policy shift occurred in 1912. At considerable expense to the Society, and against its strong belief that smaller facilities were more effective, schools were enlarged to accommodate more children, and in accordance with government standards which had been raised in 1910. In the same year the General Assembly transferred Indian work from the Foreign Missions Board to the Home Missions Board, but the WFMS continued its work among Indian women and children.
In 1914, the WFMS became the Women’s Missionary Society. There were 21 centres of mission work (eight boarding, seven day schools attached to reserves, six reserves near boarding schools). By 1921 the government paid for maintenance of pupils, while the Society was responsible for salaries of staff, except the nurse and farm instructor, who were paid out of school funds. Teachers were paid by the government, and missionaries to reserves by the Home Missions Board.
Biography written by Caryn Douglas, October 2012