Frances Esther (Hester) How (Howe), (1848-1915) educator and social reformer.

Hester How’s family emigrated from Ireland to Toronto in 1849. She graduated from the Toronto Normal School in 1866. Employed by 1871 as a governess in a girls’ school on Jarvis Street, she was hired in 1874 as a replacement teacher by the Public School Board and assigned to York Street School and later transferred to George Street School.

In June 1881, businessman-reformer William Holmes Howland made a proposal to the board to establish a school in St John’s Ward for homeless boys. Convinced that “the terrible rowdy element . . . of uneducated children growing up with a perfect disregard to the law and morality . . . are becoming a most dangerous class”, he offered to furnish a room and provide a caretaker and fuel. Publisher William James Gage volunteered books, stationery, and other supplies. There were doubts if they could find “a man of such exceptional skill and power in the management of bad-boy nature as would enable him single-handed against a host to gain a victory.” James Laughlin Hughes, the inspector of public schools, chose How for that difficult task and reported in 1881 that she had had immediate impact on the “roughest boys” who were totally unaccustomed to authority. He underlined her “kind treatment,” her rare resort to whipping, and the strength of her personality. In 1889 How became principal. By 1890 classes for girls and smaller children and a half-day class for newsboys and bootblacks had been added.

In the late 1880s she also started a crèche and subsequently developed a free-lunch programme, a penny bank, summer camps, and health and dental services. Before a juvenile court was set up, she dealt with the magistrates on behalf of her more troublesome students.

Aunt Hessie, as she was known to the children, was a recognised leader in the moral reform movement. A Congregationalist, she worked in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, sponsored temperance lectures, and established a temperance library in her school. At the first meeting of the Anti-Tobacco League in 1895, 92 of her boys pledged to abstain until the age of 21. She was also involved in initiatives aimed at women and children, in education and moral and prison reform.
In 1912 the school was rebuilt and renamed the Hester How School. The following year, she retired and during a moving ceremony, a portrait of her by John Wycliffe Lowes Forster was unveiled.

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Picture: Class for children with diabetes, Hester Howe School, January 27, 1948, Photographer: John H. Boyd, Fonds 1266, Item 121919, from: City of Toronto Archives