Doris Boyce Saunders was born in Winnipeg in 1901 and matriculated from Kelvin High School in 1917, winning the Sir James Aikin Scholarship in English and entering the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Manitoba that same year. When she graduated four years later, she was awarded not only a double honours B. A. but the University Gold Medals in both English and Philosophy as well. After a short stint teaching elementary school in one of the province's rural areas, where, she recalls, her prescribed duties included organizing school concerts and teaching Sunday School, Dr. Saunders left Manitoba to go to Oxford, and in 1923 as a member of Saint Hugh’s College was awarded a Diploma in Education, a document which entitled her to a first-class teaching certificate in the Manitoba school system. For the next three years after returning from Britain, she taught in a number of Winnipeg schools, including Gordon Bell and her old alma mater, Kelvin High School, while simultaneously pursuing post-graduate studies in English literature at The University of Manitoba. In 1925 she was awarded the degree, Master of Arts, and won a travelling scholarship which took her back to Oxford and St. Hugh's. Intending to study for a PhD degree, she was informed by the authorities of the day that they did not approve of preparing young ladies for doctorates. Properly chastened, she enrolled instead in the university's Bachelor of Letters program, for which she produced a dissertation on Dr. Johnson--an ironic choice, perhaps, in view of the great Doctor's well known pronouncements on the intellectual capacities of women.
Almost immediately upon her return from Oxford, Dr. Saunders was invited to join the staff of the English Department at The University of Manitoba, becoming in 1928 the first woman to be thus appointed in the history of the department. At the same time, she also became one of a very exclusive trio as one of the three women who were the total female complement of the teaching staff in the entire Faculty of Arts.
In the course of her long career at this institution, Dr. Saunders made her mark not only as a highly respected teacher and scholar, but as Dean of Junior Women from 1933-1945, and as a member of the Planning Committee which led to the foundation of University College, of which she was a Fellow from its beginning until her retirement in 1968, when she was awarded the title, Professor Emerita. After rising up the various rungs of the academic ladder from Lecturer to Associate Professor, Dr. Saunders became, in 1957, the first woman in the Faculty of Arts to obtain full professorial rank. In 1965, at an age when most of us are beginning to think of slowing down, she won the Winnifred Cullis Lecture Fellowship, a six-week lecture tour of the British Isles, where she addressed a broad range of audiences on a variety of topics ranging from continuing education for Canadian women to Canadian Literature. This experience is one that she still recalls as one of the highlights of her academic career.
Dr. Saunders' service to the broader community has included a term as president of the Winnipeg Women's Branch of the Canadian Institute for International Affairs, and the presidencies of the Winnipeg branches of both the Humanities Association of Canada, and the Women's Canadian Club. Most significant of all, however, has been Dr. Saunders' long and important association with the University Women's Club of Winnipeg, founded in 1909, and one of the member groups of the Canadian Federation of University Women, which came into being ten years later. These organizations, which have played a very important role in the cause of higher education for Canadian women, have made the support and encouragement of advanced study and research by women university graduates one of their major priorities. Dr. Saunders' association with the national body first began when, as a brand new young M.A., she won the Federation's travelling scholarship for her studies at Oxford, and that association has continued to this day. Dr Saunders served as President of the Winnipeg Branch from 1943-45, while on the international level she has represented Canadian university women as a delegate to conferences of the International Federation of University Women in Zurich, Paris, Helsinki and Mexico. Her career with the Federation culminated in 1955 with her election to the national presidency, a capacity in which she served until 1958, speaking on behalf of Canadian university women at gatherings all over the world.
Dr. Saunders' work on behalf of university women has won her both local and national recognition, although, in a tradition most Winnipeggers will recognize, the national recognition came much earlier than the local. In 1966 the University Women's Club of Winnipeg awarded her a Life Membership in recognition of her long and meritorious service to both the local and the national association, and more recently, in 1989, a drawing room in the club's premises on Eastgate was designated The Doris B. Saunders Room. National recognition, however, came as long ago as 1957 when the University of British Columbia awarded her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. Further honours include the Government of Canada's Confederation Medals, which she was awarded during the nation's centennial year and again in 1993.
As a teacher, scholar, and concerned citizen, Dr. Doris Saunders has been a pioneer. Her independence and her courage as a young woman in striking out in what were at the time very new directions for women ,as well as her continued commitment to the cause of women’s education, place all academic women in her debt. Her contributions, however, transcend the interests of any particular group, and it is for her service to the university and to the community as a whole that she is honoured here today.