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Association of Home Science Alumnae of New Zealand

1921 – 1990

This essay written by Jane Malthus was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

The Association of Home Science Alumnae of New Zealand provided home science graduates and diploma holders, home economics teachers and interested others with a professional, educational and social forum for nearly 70 years.

The Association of Otago University Home Science Alumnae was initiated in 1921 by Professor Ann Gilchrist Strong, a staff member of the School of Home Science (founded in 1911) and later its dean (1924–40). [1] The first president was the dean, Professor Helen Rawson, [2] with Professor Strong and Professor Winifred Boys-Smith (the first dean, 1911–20) as vice-presidents. The aims of the association were to keep home science graduates in touch with one another; to keep them aware of developments in the fields of nutrition, foods, clothing, textiles and design; to assist in recruiting students to home science courses; and to raise funds when the need arose.

The term 'alumnae', meaning former pupils or students, was widely used in Professor Strong's native America, but foreign to many New Zealanders. Holders of the Diploma of Home Science were not technically graduates, so that term was not strictly appropriate.

In May 1922 the first Alumnae Bulletin listed the 90 women who had completed the diploma, noting that 46 had already joined the new association. Both professional and homemaking graduates were encouraged to join, the founders seeing the homemakers as particularly effective spreaders of scientific knowledge in their communities. Indeed, home scientists continue to be involved both locally and nationally in a wide variety of organisations and issues, educational, political, environmental and consumer-related.

Ann Strong, 1936

Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-6388-29

Ann Monroe Gilchrist Strong, 1936.

The first branch was formed in Auckland in 1932; Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Whanganui, Hawke's Bay and Invercargill soon followed. In 1934 a national executive and provincial associations were established. The formal constitution of 1939 allowed for an executive of ten Dunedin members, including the dean of the renamed Home Science Faculty. The membership voted in 1959 to allow the executive to reside in any centre; based in Auckland from 1959-63, it subsequently moved to Wellington and then Christchurch. In 1967 the organisation was renamed the Association of Home Science Alumnae of New Zealand.

Early issues of the Alumnae Bulletins emphasised the development of home economics in New Zealand, with articles on pioneering women teachers of cookery, clothing and domestic arts; they also provided features on nutrition, teaching methods and the new profession of dietetics. Members were encouraged to support the association's efforts with the Department of Education to make domestic science a core subject in schools: 'it lies within our power to prove the value of Home Science as a University and school subject'. [3]

Conferences and refresher courses were held at the School of Home Science in 1922, 1934, 1939, 1947 and thereafter every four years. In 1963 they were held in Auckland—the first venue outside Dunedin; speakers were drawn from the School of Architecture and the food and clothing industries, and there was less emphasis than usual on nutrition. Branches held regular meetings with guest speakers, and ran seminars in conjunction with faculty staff. Although the constitution did not exclude men, and some took part in Alumnae activities, no men joined the association; the first male to graduate in home science did so in 1983.

In 1956 the association, along with the faculty, joined the International Federation of Home Economics. Several members served on its executive committee, branches and individuals subscribed, and numbers of alumnae attended its conferences. Some members also gave outstanding service to the National Council of Women (NCW) after affiliation in 1961.

Early fundraising projects included memorials to Colonel Studholme, who had provided the initial funding for the Chair in Home Science, and to Professor Strong, but the main focus was on providing a hostel for the faculty. In 1929, Alumnae funds assisted the purchase of Upper Studholme House. By the mid 1950s the association and the faculty had raised nearly £23,000 for a new hostel, and the remaining capital was raised by a nation-wide public appeal. Dunedin, Ōamaru and Invercargill branches jointly ran a Caledonian market, Manawatū organised a parade of children's fashions, and Auckland branch held cooking demonstrations at Farmers' Trading Company and sold recipe sheets. When the 120-bed Studholme Hall opened in 1961 it was virtually debt-free.

From 1967, during Professor Patricia Coleman's 25 years as dean, national fundraising efforts established the Education Trust Fund, which provided scholarships for home science alumnae to gain further qualifications overseas. Those who had specialised in nutrition or textile chemistry could do masters degrees in New Zealand, but others had to travel to the USA, Canada or the UK. Branches also had their own fundraising or community projects. In 1951, for example, Dunedin sent food parcels to the Red Cross, and at NCW's request served morning and afternoon teas to the armed forces manning the wharves during the waterfront strike.

At a reception held each year for the graduating class the new graduates were invited to join the Alumnae, but not all chose to do so. In 1955 there were 527 members from a possible pool of 1423 graduates. The peak year was 1979, with 900 members and fourteen branches. Lapsed membership was an ongoing problem, although subscription fees were kept as low as possible to allow full-time homemakers to belong.

In 1990 continuing financial problems and declining membership led to the decision to wind up the association. Its remaining assets were transferred to the Education Trust Fund, which continued to support the overseas study and continuing education of faculty alumnae.

Jane Malthus


[1] Professor Strong had been one of the 'Lake Placid Pioneers' who proposed the formation of the American Home Economics Association.

[2] Professor Rawson (later Benson) was also involved in establishing the Federation of University Women (later Graduate Women) in New Zealand.

[3] Alumnae Bulletin, Vol. 11, June 1923, p. 7. Although the association initially pressed for home science as a core subject for girls only, in later years it strongly supported its extension to boys as well.

Unpublished sources

Association of Home Science Alumnae of New Zealand papers, 1983-1990, in possession of Jane Malthus,Dunedin

Published sources

Alumnae Bulletin, 1922–1933; OUA Home Science Alumnae, 1935–1939; Home Science Bulletin, 1946-1950; Journal of the Association of Home Science Alumnae (NZ), 1951–1960; Journal of the Association of Home Science Alumnae New Zealand, 1962–1989; Home Science, 1976-1978

School of Home Science, School of Home Science History 1911–1961, University of Otago, Dunedin, 1962

Strong, Ann Gilchrist, History of the Development of University Education in Home Science in New Zealand 1911–1936, University of Otago, Dunedin, [n.d.]