Frances Firth

(Left to Right) Carolyn Gammon and Frances FirthPhoto: Canadian Writers Abroad
(Left to Right) Carolyn Gammon and Frances Firth
Photo: Canadian Writers Abroad

Frances Allison (Firth) Gammon (historian, writer, and poet) was born in Campbellton, New Brunswick, 2 September 1918. Daughter of the milliner Maybel Grace (Troop) Firth and the bookkeeper Dougald Carmichael Firth. Firth graduated at the top of her class from Campbellton High School in 1935. One teacher, Dr. Katherine MacNaughton, was to be particularly influential in developing Firth’s interest in history. Firth graduated from the Fredericton Normal School (Teacher’s College) in 1937 and taught in rural schools in Dalhousie Junction and Glencoe alternately while pursuing a BA in English and history from the University of New Brunswick (UNB). During her undergraduate studies, she won the Douglas Gold Medal for best composition, and upon graduating in 1943 with honours, she won the James Simonds Prize for an essay entitled “The Purpose and Place of History in the School Curriculum.” In 1943 Firth became one of the first women to join the UNB faculty as an assistant professor of English and history. Firth graduated in 1945 with an MA in history. Her thesis, “The History of Higher Education in New Brunswick,” remains one of the definitive works on this topic. She assisted Dr. Alfred Bailey in preparing the Robb Papers, which eventually became the publication The Letters of James and Ellen Robb: A Portrait of a Fredericton Family in Early Victorian Times (1983).

Firth was appointed as the first archivist of the new UNB Archives (then a division of the Bonar Law Bennett Library). In 1950, she worked for Lord Beaverbrook, compiling the Catalogue of the Beaverbrook Collection. Brigadier Michael Wardell commissioned Firth to do research for a Beaverbrook biography. In the summer of 1952, she conducted interviews in Beaverbrook’s hometown of Newcastle, the results of which can be found in the UNB archives and special collections.

It was Frances Firth’s participation in the Bliss Carman Poetry Society in the 1940s that led to her becoming an avid poet for some years. This poetry group met in the home of Dr. Alfred Bailey, and Firth’s poems appeared in the earliest issues of this group’s literary review, The Fiddlehead, now Canada’s longest-running literary journal. As a tribute to her contributions, a book of Firth’s poetry (There Was the Lord, Adjusting his Binoculars) was edited and published by her daughter Carolyn Firth Gammon in 2004. It was also at the Bliss Carman Poetry Society that Frances Firth met Donald Gammon, the first editor of The Fiddlehead. In 1951, the two married and attended library school together at the University of Toronto. Firth graduated with honours in 1952 and returned to live the rest of her life in Fredericton.

Firth’s academic and writing career ended when she had four baby-boom children in six years, but in literary circles Firth still enjoys a reputation as an excellent scholar and a pioneer woman-of-the-arts in New Brunswick. Up until her death on 18 November 2015, Frances (Firth) Gammon remained a life-long diarist and letter writer, maintaining a link to her literary past.

Carolyn Gammon, Fall 2009
Berlin, Germany

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Firth, Frances A., comp. Catalogue of the Beaverbrook Collection. U of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB. 1951.

---. “Dowry.” The Fiddlehead 5 (Nov. 1946).

---. “He Arose and Leaned on the Sky.” The Fiddlehead 10 (1949?).

---. “The History of Higher Education in New Brunswick to 1864, with Special Reference to U.N.B.” MA thesis. U of New Brunswick, 1945.

---. “The Mask.” The Fiddlehead 11 (1950?).

---. “Rain.” The Fiddlehead 2 (Apr. 1945).

---. There Was the Lord, Adjusting his Binoculars: Poems 1945−1951. Ed. Carolyn Firth Gammon. Berlin: n.p., 2002.

---. “To a Lost Love.” The Fiddlehead 12 (Mar. 1951).

---. “To Melinda in a Foreign Land.” The Fiddlehead 13 (Dec. 1951).

---. “Wind Song” and “Madness.” The Fiddlehead 4 (Feb. 1946).

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Bailey, Dr. Alfred G. Preface. The Letters of James and Ellen Robb: Portrait of a Fredericton Family in Early Victorian Times. Fredericton, NB: Acadiensis Press, 1983.

Bailey Family Collection. Archives and Special Collections. Harriet Irving Library, U of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB. Mar. 1988, 1995.

Cogswell, Fred. “The Fiddlehead.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. 3 Dec. 2012. Historica Canada. 29 June 2020

Galloway, David. “Interview With Fred Cogswell.” Studies in Canadian Literature 10.1 (1985).

Gibbs, Robert. “Fiddlehead’s 60-Year Legacy.” UNB Alumni News 13.3 (Spring 2005).

Lane, M. Travis. “An Interview With Alfred Goldsworthy Bailey.” Studies in Canadian Literature 11. 2 (1985).

Wright, Donald. “Gender and the Professionalization of History in English Canada Before 1960.” Canadian Historical Review 81.1 (Mar. 2000).