Benson, Clara

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Clara Cynthia Benson

(5 June 1875 - 24 March1964)

Household Science

Food Chemistry

Clara Benson was born and raised in Port Hope, Ontario. She studied mathematics, chemistry and physics at University College, University of Toronro bewteen 1895 and 1899, and in that latter year was the first woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was subsequently awarded the PhD in chemistry in 1903. At that point, she was appointed to the faculty of the Lillian Massey Trebel School of Home Economics as a lecturer in physiological chemistry. In 1906 she was named Associate Professor in the newly established Faculty of Household Science, with responsibilty for the program in food chemistry. In 1926, she was promoted to Full Professor and Head of the Department of Food Chemistry, in which position she remained until her retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1945.

1921: first president of the Women's Athletic Association of the University of Toronto


Clara Benson Building (1959)

Clara Benson Award (1992) Canadian Society for Chemistry

First Women Professors
“During the First World War, Clara Benson unearthed an unlikely connection between food and explosives: their chemical properties, she found, could be analysed using the same methods. Comparing, say, a tomato and mortar powder was a novel idea, and munitions labs quickly adopted her tools for analysis.
Benson’s achievements in science harked back to the turn of the century: in 1903 she graduated with a PhD in physical chemistry, one of the first two women at U of T to receive a doctorate. But few research opportunities existed for women chemists, so Benson became a demonstrator in food chemistry at the School of Household Science. In principle, the program was not one she agreed with, but she quickly rose to the position of lecturer. In 1906, when the school was designated as a full-fledged faculty, Benson and principal Annie Laird became the university’s first associate professors.”