March is Women's History Month! A great lesson idea for this month could be to get students to research and present a notable woman in history. We're celebrating at ep.education by highlighting a few outstanding women in New Zealand's history with exceptional educational achievements.
Kate Edger (6 January 1857 - 6 May 1935) was the first woman in New Zealand to gain a university degree.
She was born in Berkshire, England, and moved to New Zealand in 1862. She studied at Auckland College and Grammar School and was the only female pupil, as there was no equivalent girls school. Kate applied for a degree at the University of New Zealand; she included her age and qualifications but omitted her gender. In 1877, Kate received a Bachelor of Arts. She was both the first woman in New Zealand to gain a university degree and the first woman in the British Empire to earn a BA. After graduation, Kate taught alongside studying for a Master's degree. She gained her MA in 1882 and was later appointed the first principal of Nelson College for Girls.
Helen Connon (1859/1860 - 22 February 1903) was the first woman in the British Empire to gain a Master's degree with honours.
She was born in Melbourne, Australia, and moved to New Zealand around 1862. Her mother convinced the local boys' high school to enrol her, and she did so well that at the age of 15, she was assisting with the teaching. Later, she was the first female pupil at Canterbury College and became a teacher at the newly established Christchurch Girls' High School while still studying. She was awarded a Bachelor of Arts in 1880 – the second woman to earn a BA in The British Empire (see Kate Edger above!) - and she became the first woman in the British Empire to earn a Master's degree with honours in 1881. The following year, she became principal of Christchurch Girls High School and dedicated her life to improving girls' access to education.
Bessie Te Wenerau Grace (28 October 1889 – 20 June 1944) was an educational leader and the first Māori woman to gain a university degree.
She was Ngāti Tūwharetoa and born in Taupō. She attended Nelson College for Girls under Kate Edger (see above!) and was likely the first Māori student there. After school, she trained as a teacher before moving to London and completing a Bachelor of Arts in 1926, making her the first Māori woman to gain a university degree. In 1927, she earned a MA with first-class honours. She taught in London and Melbourne and was the headmistress of St Michael's School (Melbourne) until she died in 1944.
Dame Kāterina Mataira (13 November 1932 - 16 July 2011) was a critical figure in the reo Māori revitalisation movement and helped to establish the first Māori language immersion school.
She was Ngāti Porou and was born in Tokomaru Bay. After her schooling, she trained as a teacher and introduced the first Māori language class in a state school in 1956. She helped establish the first Māori language immersion school, Kura Kaupapa Māori. She also co-authored the charter for kaupapa Māori schools and wrote award-winning picture books and novels in te Reo Māori. She was a foundation member of the Māori Language Commission. In 1996, she was made an Honorary Doctor by the University of Waikato and was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit just before her death in 2011.
Beatrice Tinsley (27 January 1941 - 23 March 1981) was an astronomer and the first woman to be a Professor of Astronomy at Yale University.
She was born in Chester, England, and moved to New Zealand in 1946. She was a student at New Plymouth Central Primary School and New Plymouth Girls’ High School and was dux of her school. In 1961, she graduated from Canterbury University College with a BSc in Physics, and she completed her MSc the following year. In 1963, she moved to the USA and later gained her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin – she was the first woman to study in the astronomy department. She made incredible discoveries about the universe, and in 1978, she became the first woman to be appointed as Professor of Astronomy at Yale. Later in life, she was diagnosed with melanoma, yet managed to publish many papers and supervise postgraduate students while very ill before her death in 1981.
Who are some other amazing women who shaped education in New Zealand or had incredible achievements? We'd love to hear your thoughts!