Unfolding a Feminist Library

The Ursula Franklin Library Collection

Dr. Ursula Martius Franklin (1921–2016) was a physicist and engineering professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science. Renowned as a feminist, humanitarian, and activist for peace and social justice, and deeply committed to her Quaker faith, Dr. Franklin experienced many challenges and opportunities in her life that informed her thinking around the imperative for a caring, non-oppressive society. Dr. Franklin’s life experiences and body of work are long, many, and large, and cannot be fully covered here, but in this exhibition you will learn about Dr. Franklin through her books and through her reading practices.

To briefly summarize, after the Second World War, Dr. Franklin earned her PhD in experimental physics at the Technical University of Berlin in 1948 before moving to Toronto in 1949, where she built a distinguished career as a scientist and scholar. Her scientific research focused on the structural properties of metals and alloys. In addition to this research, she also contributed many different publications, lectures, and appearances on public radio programming on feminism, pacifism, women's and gender studies, and the history and social impacts of science and technology. Dr. Franklin received much recognition for her work and achievements, including many awards and honorary degrees. Her intellectual curiosity and dexterity are evident through her contributions to and across many different fields of study.

Dr. Franklin donated her private collection of books, journal volumes, and other materials to the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) Library in 2015. The collection primarily includes printed books on the topics of feminism, women and gender studies, and the impact of women on the fields of science and technology. Dr. Franklin stated that “this collection are my own books that I need to supplement my knowledge”1 and noted that “a women and gender studies library has to preserve the past.”

This exhibition provides an imagining of Dr. Franklin as a reader, and aims to connect some of her ideas and values to her reading practices, in particular the act of recognition. Recognizing the work and impact of others was an important practice for Dr. Franklin, and she did this, in part, through her interactions with books. In the section titled “From Ursula’s Bookshelf” in the book The Ursula Franklin Reader, Dr. Franklin listed some works that have informed her thinking, some of which are part of her collection at UTM. She wrote the following: “Clearly, I am indebted to the work of many others and have incorporated their thoughts into mine. It would be impossible to acknowledge all of them. However, standing in front of my books I realized suddenly that there is a special group among them: the books with all the marks and slips sticking out – the works much consulted and checked. Like good and trusted friends, they have stood by me, and it is with profound thankfulness that I list them below.”3

We hope this exhibition encourages you to explore Dr. Franklin’s collection further and to consider what recognition means to you.

The following is a select list of works by and about Dr. Franklin that touch on the various aspects of her thought and work:

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. rev. ed. CBC Massey Lecture Series. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2004.

Franklin, Ursula M. The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a Map. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2006.

Franklin, Ursula Martius (in collaboration with Sarah Jane Freeman). Ursula Franklin Speaks: Thoughts and Afterthoughts, 1986–2012, edited by Sarah Jane Freeman. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014.

Suurtamm, Karen. “Preserving Her Voice: The Ursula Franklin Archive.” Canadian Journal of Physics 96, no. 4 (2018): xiv-xviii. https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/cjp-2017-0276.

Vitali, Vanda, and Ursula M. Franklin. “New Approaches to the Characterization and Classification of Ceramics on the Basis of Their Elemental Composition.” Journal of Archaeological Science 13, no. 2 (1986): 161–70. Elsevier.


1 University of Toronto Archives [UTA]. Ursula Martius Franklin fonds. B2015-0005/065(12) [page 5]

2 UTA. Ursula Martius Franklin fonds. B2015-0005/065(12) [page 4]

3 Ursula M. Franklin, “From Ursula’s Bookshelf,” in The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a Map (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2006), 367.