Wellington Girls’ College and Suffrage

The Dux, the Photographer and the Principal


Schools are a focal point for the history of communities — the past and present are bound together by the educational institutions that transmit knowledge between generations. Schools often play important and formative roles in historical movements and in the lives of important New Zealanders. Wellington Girls’ College (known as Wellington Girls’ High School until 1905) is one such hub of activity in our Wellington community.

In the late 19th century, a number of individuals connected with Wellington Girls’ College signed the 1893 suffrage petition, which directly preceded women gaining the vote in New Zealand. Three of these women are profiled below in this article. Their passion for their chosen vocation, their skill and influence on those around them is plain to see. With Suffrage Day on September 19th it is crucial to remember those women and the taonga of life stories.

Wellington Girls' High School, pre-1905
Pre-1905 photo of Wellington Girls’ High School. Calvert, L (Mr), fl 1963 :Postcards. Ref: 1/2-049813-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22790013
Group portrait of Form VI girls at Wellington Girls High School 1887
Connolly & Herrmann (Firm). Connolly & Herrmann (Wellington) fl 1887-1889 :Group portrait of Form VI girls at Wellington Girls High School 1887. Ref: PA3-0053. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23063637

Maria Elsie Allman Marchant

Above is a studio group portrait of Form VI, Wellington Girls College. Back row standing: Ada F Carrol. Amy Meek. Ethel Maud Wilson. Mary Grubb. Jessie Nairn. Seated from left: Margaret Paterone. Harriet Day. Ella Marchant. Georgina Stack. Photographed by Connolly and Herrmann (Wellington) in 1887.

Maria Elsie Allman Marchant, known as Ella, was a talented and extremely capable pupil of Wellington Girls College. In 1887, she became the dux of her school. Just a few years later, Marchant returned to Wellington Girls College as a teacher whilst also studying extramurally towards a BA and an MA from Canterbury University. In 1893, an ‘E A. Marchant’ signed the suffrage petition, making clear her commitment to extending suffrage to all New Zealanders.

Marchant went onto become the Principal of Otago Girls’ High School where she took an independent and insightful approach on a range of issues (which sometimes brought her into conflict with the board of governors).[1] She had a strong conviction to do the best for her girls. On Saturday nights, the boarders would gather at Marchant’s home to read from her well stocked bookshelf — they especially enjoyed her copies of Charles Dickens.[2] Her untimely death in 1917 curtailed her plans to establish a religious teaching order in Dunedin. The Evening Post noted that Marchant was “an eloquent speaker, and from her wide experience and knowledge often charmed and delighted audiences.”[3]

Louisa Marion Herrmann

In the photograph of Marchant above, it is important to note not just the individuals present, but also the photography business involved in the image.  Louisa Marion Herrmann arrived from the UK in New Zealand aboard the Piako in 1880.  Louisa worked in Wellington as an assistant for Herrmann photography studio on Lambton Quay.[4] She went onto marry Richard Herrmann, one of her employers. After his death in 1892, she took sole charge of the business, and for 16 years she ran the photographic studio, now based on Cuba Street, and employed many workers. Herrmann’s business was described as “the most up-to-date and complete studio in the colonies.”[5]

During this time, Herrmann became an advocate for suffrage by signing the 1893 petition. On her retirement, Herrmann offered for sale 35,000 photographic negatives of New Zealanders. Tragically, we no longer know where these are — at least for now, these images, and their stories, are lost.[6]  As Te Papa staffer Lissa Mitchell recently noted, “it is a sad reflection on New Zealand’s historical record that Louisa’s story of self-determination and resilience and her photographic work have been lost, and a strong reminder of the need to keep including the work and stories of women in our histories.”

Mary Jane McLean

Mary Jane McLean was one of New Zealand’s most significant educationists. Especially later in life, she was a prominent advocate for women’s rights. She signed the 1893 petition and went onto become Principal of Wellington Girls’ College in 1900.

Mary Jane McLean, circa 1925
Mary Jane McLean. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-7171-46. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22693323

McLean was an experienced teacher, but she had to face tough international competition to attain her role. She immediately took an independent approach, making her mark on the school, where her legacies continue to this day. McLean directed Wellington Girls’ College as it expanded from a small school for a wealthy elite into a modern institution with a roll of 850. As the roll swelled, McLean helped establish Wellington East Girls’ College in 1926.

In 1929, after her retirement from education, McLean founded the Women’s Social Progress Movement which campaigned for women’s representation and provided aid and relief during the Depression in the early 1930s. McLean demonstrated a lifelong passionate commitment to improving the position of women, and Wellington remained McLean’s home till she passed away in 1946. Today, the year 13 Wellington Girls’ College prize for first in physical education is named after McLean.[7]

Marchant, Herrmann and McLean are just three of the signatories to the 1893 petition. All in all, thirteen separate petitions carried the signatures of 31,872 women. On the 19th of September, let’s celebrate all of those women with their unique lives, impressive achievements and their lasting influences upon us today.

Come along to Suffrage Day celebrations

We’ll be celebrating Suffrage Day at the Central Library on the 19th September. Come along and help us celebrate!

Library Planned activities

From 10am-2pm, you can:

  1. Have fun experiencing the times with our photo booth
  2. Try your hand at making a celebration camellia or badge
  3. Write some messages about what being able to vote means to you
  4. Watch a historical film (screenings are on the 1st floor)

Electoral Commission staff will also be with us from 12-2pm help you register for the electoral roll and answer any questions you have about voting in the present day!

Find out more about our celebrations

Kate Sheppard Ride

Another event happening in the city, is the Kate Sheppard Ride — see details below from the organisers:

Dress to impress and get your wheels spinning by joining us at 1.30pm on Saturday, 22 September 2018 (wet weather day will be the next day) at Old St Paul’s in Mulgrave Street. The Suffrage 125 bicycle ride will take you through the streets of old Thorndon and Wellington’s CBD.

Date: Saturday, 22 September, 2018
Time: 1:30pm to 4:30pm
Cost: 1 x Kate Sheppard $10 note
Location: Old St Paul’s, 34 Mulgrave Street, Thorndon ,Wellington

Learn more

Maori women and the vote / Rei, Tania
“In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Māori women were involved in two suffrage movements at the same time. Māori women supported the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in seeking the right to vote for members of the New Zealand House of Representatives, and they also sought the right to vote and to stand as members of the Māori Parliament – Te Kotahitanga. By the turn of the century both these goals had been achieved. Their involvement in the suffrage movements was a significant development in the story of Māori women and the ways in which they organised at a national level to deal with issues of importance to them and their communities.” (Summary from the Royal Society – Te Apārangi)

Read online with Bridget Williams BooksThe Women’s Suffrage Petition = Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine, 1893.
“In May 2017 the exhibition He Tohu opened at the National Library in Wellington. This celebrates three founding documents in New Zealand’s history – He Whakaputanga: The Declaration of Independence (1835), the Treaty of Waitangi: Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840) and the Women’s Suffrage Petition (1893). The originals of these documents are on display at the National Library, in a wonderful exhibition that tells the history of the times and the story of the documents themselves.” (Library Catalogue)

Women’s suffrage in New Zealand / Grimshaw, Patricia
“First published in 1972, Patricia Grimshaw’s account of the New Zealand suffrage movement remains the definitive study of New Zealand’s radical role as the first country in the world to give women the vote. In clear, lively prose, this revised edition tells the fascinating story of the courage and determination early New Zealand feminists demonstrated, focusing particularly on the remarkable leadership of Kate Sheppard, whose ideas remain relevant today.” (Catalogue)

References


  1. Te Ara online
  2. NZ History online
  3. DEATH OF A WELL-KNOWN TEACHER, Evening Post, Volume XCVIII, Issue 119, 17 November 1919
  4. ‘L M Herrmann’, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 14-Aug-2018
  5. Lissa Mitchell, ‘Inspiring stories about NZ women photographers – Louisa Herrmann (1864-1955)’ Te Papa blog
  6. Lissa Mitchell, ‘Inspiring stories about NZ women photographers – Louisa Herrmann (1864-1955)’ Te Papa blog
  7. Information courtesy of Wellington Girls’ College Library

Special thanks to Ann Reweti for the blog concept and the research notes that she compiled.

Two great new novels which might have slipped past your satellite dish

Two of the thinking woman’s most popular novelists have produced new books this year and we have recently welcomed them in to the library. In different ways, they explore the difficulty of meeting the many demands of modern life.

The new Anne Tyler is charming, one of her best yet. The characters are so finely realised that it is difficult to realise that they are not living people.

Many women who are tired of trying to be everything everyone expects them to be will empathise with the heroine of Sue Townsend’s ‘The woman who went to bed for a year”. This is British black humour at its best and will will attract an appreciative audience.

Both books are already proudly wearing “Librarians Choice” badges – your guarantee of a good read!!

Syndetics book coverThe beginner’s goodbye : a novel / by Anne Tyler
“Tyler’s bright charm resides in her signature blend of the serious with the larky. Adept at dissecting family life, she is also intrigued by lonely guys, the focus in The Accidental Tourist (1985), A Patchwork Planet (1998), and Noah’s Compass (2009). Her newest variation on this theme is an exceptionally lithe, sparkling, and covertly philosophical tale, set, as all her novels are, in Baltimore. Hampered with a crippled leg and arm, Aaron has always refused to be coddled, fending off his guilt-ridden mother and strong-willed sister. He married Dorothy, a doctor, because he loved her brusqueness and pragmatism. He is devastated when she dies in a freak accident that destroys their house until Dorothy begins returning from beyond. These precious, if mysterious, encounters are all that matter to Aaron. He moves in with his sister, turns his wrecked house over to Gil, a sympathetic contractor, and barricades himself in his office at his family’s vanity press to avoid frilly, cookie-baking, overly helpful Peggy. The press stays afloat by selling its Beginner’s series, little how-to books that Tyler astutely uses to illuminate how ill-prepared we are for life’s relentless demands. As Gil restores Aaron’s home, Aaron slowly rebuilds his life in this funny, sweet, and wise tale of lost and found love.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe woman who went to bed for a year / Sue Townsend.
“The day her children leave home, Eva climbs into bed and stays there. She’s had enough – of her kids’ carelessness, her husband’s thoughtlessness and of the world’s general indifference. Brian can’t believe his wife is doing this. Who is going to make dinner? Taking it badly, he rings Eva’s mother – but she’s busy having her hair done. So he rings his mother – she isn’t surprised. Eva, she says, is probably drunk. Let her sleep it off. But Eva won’t budge. She makes new friends – Mark the window cleaner and Alexander, a very sexy handyman. She discovers Brian’s been having an affair. And Eva realizes to her horror that everyone has been taking her for granted – including herself. Though Eva’s refusal to behave like a dutiful wife and mother soon upsets everyone from medical authorities to her neighbours she insists on staying in bed. And from this odd but comforting place she begins to see both the world and herself very, very differently. . .The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year is a funny and touching novel about what happens when someone refuses to be the person everyone expects them to be. Sue Townsend, Britain’s funniest writer for over three decades, has written a brilliant novel that hilariously deconstructs modern family life.” (Global Books)

Bright stars- Women scientists known and unknown

Many listeners are tuning into “The stars are comforting” which is currently being played on Concert FM each Sunday at 2PM. This programme follows the life of the internationally-renowned New Zealand astronomer Beatrice Hill Tinsley through her many letters to her family and the music she played or which she heard at concerts. Astronomy and music were her two great interests in life. A brilliant scientist who began her work in the America of the 1960s, Beatrice struggled to reconcile her life as a woman with her passion for astronomy so that her story is very much tied up with feminist cause. She died at the tragically early age of 37. Those who have enjoyed the radio programmme may like to read this comprehensive biography.

Syndetics book coverBright star : Beatrice Hill Tinsley, astronomer / Christine Cole Catley.
“A New Zealand hero brought out of obscurity in this fascinating 445 page biography by author Christine Cole Catley. Beatrice Hill Tinsley showed astronomers new ways of thinking and taught teachers new ways of teaching. A lover of nature and a conservationist who idealised New Zealand, she was also a musician, a feminist, a battler for zero population growth and a champion of the oppressed. Her life is a classic study in the interaction of nature and nurture, genetics and environment. It is also an inspiring and unforgettable picture of a girl determined to be a scientist who grows up in provincial New Zealand and wins through to world renown.”(Summary from www. globalbooksinprint.com)

Rosalind Franklin’s life is one which is sometimes compared with that of Beatrice Hill Tinsley, although she lived a generation before her (she was born in 1920) – and on the other side of the world (she grew up and worked in London). Rosalind Franklin faced different problems from those faced by Beatrice – she never married and did not have children – but she suffered from male jealousy and hostility.There is a strong suggestion that her pioneering work on DNA was poached and that she was denied a share in the the Nobel prize. She also died tragically young – at the age of 38.

Syndetics book coverRosalind Franklin : the dark lady of DNA / Brenda Maddox.
“Her photographs of DNA were called “among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken,” but physical chemist Rosalind Franklin never received due credit for the crucial role these played in the discovery of DNA’s structure. In this sympathetic biography, Maddox argues that sexism, egotism and anti-Semitism conspired to marginalize a brilliant and uncompromising young scientist who, though disliked by some colleagues, was a warm and admired friend to many. Franklin was born into a well-to-do Anglo-Jewish family and was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge. After beginning her research career in postwar Paris she moved to Kings College, London, where her famous photographs of DNA were made. These were shown without her knowledge to James Watson, who recognized that they indicated the shape of a double helix and rushed to publish the discovery; with colleagues Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, he won the Nobel Prize in 1962. Deeply unhappy at Kings, Rosalind left in 1953 for another lab, where she did important research on viruses, including polio. Her career was cut short when she died of ovarian cancer at age 37. Maddox sees her subject as a wronged woman, but this view seems rather extreme.”(Oct. 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly)

Marie Curie preceded both these women scientists – she was born in 1867 – but she lived to a comparitively ripe age. Her work on radiation with her husband Pierre has made her a household name throughout the world and won the Nobel prize for physics for both in 1903. She herself won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1911, becoming the only woman to win two Nobel prizes and to win them in two fields. Her full and interesting life was beset with difficulties – among them the struggle to become a scientist, despite an impoverished background, and to honour her intense patriotism to her native Poland while living as a loyal French citizen. She received full recognition only after her husband’s death.

Syndetics book coverThe Curies : a biography of the most controversial family in science / Denis Brian.
“Brian notes that in a recent French poll on the greatest Frenchmen (sic) of all time, Marie Curie (1867-1934) was voted number four. The author of Einstein: A Life examines the personal and professional lives and legacy of a family that won a total of six Nobel Prizes. The controversies he treats include Madame Curie’s battles with the chauvinistic French science community and affair with a married scientist after Pierre’s death. The biography includes photos. Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)” (Syndetics summary)

The three women scientists featured here are found in this book too, but it also highlights the work of many others whose names have been forgotten or obliterated. It raises interesting and timely questions about the paucity of top women scientists in the modern world, despite the fact that girls excel in examinations and repeatedly outstrip boys in the discipline.

Syndetics book coverScientists anonymous : great stories of women in science / Patricia Fara.“Why, when girls outstrip boys in exams, are there still so few women in the top levels of science? Why have women been excluded and is there still discrimination? Acclaimed science writer and children’s author Patricia Fara investigates science past and present to find the answers. She examines women scientists’ struggle against unequal opportunities, and shows how they have succeeded despite the obstacles stacked against them. The renowned names are here – Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Rosalind Franklin – but Scientists Anonymous also reveals the forgotten contributions of many other dedicated and brilliant women. Combining history, science and biography, Fara presents the stories of female explorers, mathematicians, astronomers and chemists from all over the world.”(Book summary Amazon.co.uk)

Rachel Dawick – free live performances at Central & Kilbirnie libraries

follow my tears eventOn Wednesday 18 May, Wellington City Libraries is delighted to have New Zealand singer/songwriter Rachel Dawick give two free live performances as part of her “Follow My Tears” tour. Rachel will perform at:
Central Library (65 Victoria Street) – 12-1pm
Ruth Gotlieb Library, Kilbirnie – 3.30-4.30pm

For 60 days Rachel will be touring New Zealand performing and collecting stories of New Zealand women in the 1800s on her journey.

“Researching into the songs written in the 1800s in NZ revealed a large gap in terms of those by women. It was a musical history dominated by men and therefore providing only half a story. If there weren’t the songs then the next best thing would be to discover the stories and write the songs myself.”
Rachel Dawick.

Want to have a listen before the event? Check out Rachel’s previous albums in our catalogue.

nzmmFor more information on Rachel Dawick: http://www.racheldawick.com

For more information about the “Follow My Tears” tour: http://web.me.com/rdawick/www.followmytears.com/The_Plan.html

Supported by Creative NZ, Wellington City Libraries, The Interislander Ferry and Radio New Zealand.

follow my tears events

Wanted: Stories of New Zealand women 1820 to 1890

Follow my tears posterDo you have stories of women in your family who lived in New Zealand in the 1800’s?  If so, we want to hear from you!
New Zealand singer-songwriter Rachel Dawick is collecting stories from all over New Zealand, which will then be used to create a new album of songs and a national resource for libraries.

“Researching into the songs written in the 1800s in NZ revealed a large gap in terms of those by women. It was a musical history dominated by men and therefore providing only half a story. If there weren’t the songs then the next best thing would be to discover the stories and write the songs myself.”
Rachel Dawick.

Write down the stories and drop them into your local Wellington City Libraries branch by 18 May or email them to us at enquiries@wcl.govt.nz
with  ‘Rachel Dawick Stories’ in the subject line. Please note that stories provided to us are unable to be returned.

nzmmFrom 14 April – 14 June, Rachel will also be travelling throughout New Zealand, performing in local libraries, while she collects the stories.

You will get your chance to see Rachel perform in Wellington when she will be giving two free live performances on Wednesday 18 May at Central Library (12-1pm) and Ruth Gotlieb Library, Kilbirnie (3.30-4.30pm).

Want to have a listen before the event?  Check out Rachel’s previous albums on our catalogue, or listen to an interview with her via RadioNZ.

follow my tears events