The Nellie Langford Rowell Library was organized as, and continues to be, a safe and friendly space and resource for women and LGBTQ2S+ members of both the York University community and in the larger community beyond.
Our namesake Nellie Langford Rowell (1874-1968) was an active volunteer on behalf of women and women’s causes. She was mother to the library’s main benefactor, Mary Coyne Rowell Jackman (1904-1994), and grandmother to our current benefactor, Nancy Ruth.
The Nellie has been at York since 1985, supported by endowment from the Jackman Foundation and named after Nancy Ruth’s grandmother. Before leaving York in 2018, Dean Ananya Mukherjee oversaw the transition of the Nellie Langford Rowell Library to the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, designating it as one of the units of the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. Although the Nellie is housed within the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, its mission is to serve the entire York community. The library is administered by a volunteer board comprised of members from gender and women’s studies programs at York and members from external community groups. It is managed by a coordinator and several library support assistants.
About Nellie Langford Rowell
For those of us interested in the history of Canadian women and, particularly, in their contribution to the growth of Canadian politics, conventional historical sources are often unrewarding. This description of Nellie Langford Rowell, from a contemporary source, is typical:
"Mrs. Rowell graduat[ed] in 1896...and in 1901 she became the bride of Mr. Newton Wesley Rowell, a brilliant young barrister... Mr. Rowell's gifts were for political and public service, and in every step of his upward career he has owed much to the sympathy and understanding of his wife.1 [emphasis added]
Newton Wesley Rowell was a distinguished and prominent lawyer and politician, whose devoted wife supported him both personally and politically. Mrs. Rowell was dedicated to her family and to this day her daughter, Mary Jackman, remembers "coming home from school and always finding Mother quietly sitting on the window seat...in her bedroom sewing or mending, and waiting to exchange news of the day - one could always count on her."2
This is not, however, the complete picture of Nellie Langford Rowell. This paper uses archival and oral sources to present a portrait of the Mrs. Rowell whose understanding of "domestic service" led her into a lifetime's work in volunteer organizations to better the condition of women.