New Zealand Federation of Home and Family Societies

1893 –

New Zealand Federation of Home and Family Societies

1893 –

Theme: Welfare

Known as:

  • Society for the Protection of Women and Children
    1893 – 1955
  • Society for the Protection of Home and Family
    1955 – 1956
  • New Zealand Federation of Home and Family Societies
    1956 –

This essay written by Margaret Tennant was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993. It was updated by Margaret Tennant in 2018.


Nomenclature provides an important key to the history of the New Zealand Federation of Home and Family Societies. When the Society for the Protection of Women and Children was formed in Auckland in 1893, its name was a public statement that women and children required protecting: its reports made it clear that it was from men that they needed protecting. By the time the organisation was renamed the Society for the Protection of Home and Family in 1955, it had lost some of its initial impetus. The new name was intended to include men as objects of concern, and to make the society more acceptable to potential donors. [1] In later decades it operated as the Home and Family Society, a more compact title, but one which downplayed the older 'protective' function.

While the society initially functioned as a welfare organisation for women, it was not always an organisation of women. Women consistently played a more significant role in some branches of the society than in others. The Auckland branch was founded in 1893, largely due to the efforts of an Auckland businessman, Henry Wilding, who chaired the committee for many years. While a 'lady visitor' was soon appointed, the committee initially contained more men than women, most of them members of the clergy. A separate ladies' committee was established in 1899, under the leadership of Lady Ranfurly, to raise funds for the society, in the best bazaar-stall fashion. Nevertheless, the number of women on the main committee increased over time, the 1899 report noting that there had been too many men involved who proved unable to give sufficient time to the society's work.

Fundraising ball for the Wellington branch

Auckland Libraries. Ref: AWNS-19110810-12-4

Wellington poster ball held in aid of the Wellington Society for the Protection of Women and Children, 10 August 1911.

By way of contrast, the Wellington branch evolved from a public meeting organised by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1897. Its foundation president was Kate Evans (born Edger), New Zealand's first woman graduate. The all-female executive included a number of well-known feminists such as Anna Stout and Lily Kirk (later Atkinson), as well as the wives of prominent businessmen and politicians. The branch maintained links with other women's organisations, supporting such broader feminist demands as equal pay. It had a number of male trustees who sometimes spoke at public meetings and gave informal advice on legal and financial matters, but of all the society's branches this was the most unequivocally a women's organisation.

The Dunedin branch (formed in 1899) and the Christchurch branch (1907) fell somewhere between Auckland and Wellington in terms of male and female influence. In both cases the committee was often chaired by a man and contained a few male members, but women predominated in numbers and active work. The Dunedin branch, in particular, attracted a number of notable women, such as Dr Emily Siedeberg, New Zealand's first woman graduate in medicine, Ethel Benjamin, its first woman lawyer, and Rachel Reynolds, a founder of the Free Kindergarten movement.

Although they functioned independently, branches of the society met in conference from the 1920s and formed a federation in 1956. From the start they also shared a core of aims and objectives: to prosecute in cases of cruelty, seduction, outrage or excessive violence towards women and children; to give advice and aid to women who had been cruelly treated; to make provision for children when it was found their parents or guardians were unfit persons to have control of them; and to agitate for the improvement of statute laws to give more effective protection to women and children. In comparison with other welfare bodies at the turn of the century, the society was advanced in its approach, acting as a pressure group to influence broader political change, and at an individual level offering case-work, counselling services and legal aid.

Some branches added other objectives as their work developed. Reflecting its feminist origins, Wellington sought the formation of girls' clubs 'for social intercourse and mutual improvement'. [2] Christchurch was anxious to drive 'lazy heads of families' into farm colonies, so that they could be compelled to work for their maintenance. [3] The Auckland branch added the prevention of cruelty to animals to its aims after amalgamating with the SPCA in 1898. (Members obviously racked their brains for a title that would not express too crudely the ironies of this association, and the Auckland branch eventually operated as the Society for the Protection of Women and Children and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.) It is telling that the animal welfare side of the society's work aroused more public sympathy than its efforts for women and children, and the branch's financial problems increased after the SPCA split away in 1926.

Each branch of the society appointed a female secretary-visitor, believing that distressed women would be more likely to confide in a member of their own sex. As full-time, salaried employees, these women made an important contribution to the emergence of social work as a career in New Zealand. Most acquired skills on the job and soon developed a network of contacts with other social agencies in their communities. The work was stressful, bringing them into contact with incest, domestic violence, family desertion and child neglect. Much time was taken up with acquiring and seeing to the enforcement of maintenance and affiliation orders. Some branch visitors were used by official agencies, as charitable aid inspectors for hospital boards and as court conciliators and associates.

Case reports suggest that, without more fundamental changes in social attitudes to domestic violence and women's economic dependency, many of the society's solutions to family problems were limited and short-term. They also suggest that by World War II, an initial outrage at male drunkenness and cruelty had become subordinate to the desire to keep families together, especially where there were children. The change in name to the Society for the Protection of Home and Family in 1955 was significant, for the earlier title was by then seen as 'too aggressive'. [4]

Christian Family Year display

Christchurch Anglican Diocesan Archives, Mother's Union Collection. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

The League of Mothers and the Society for the Protection of Home and Family jointly organised this display in Christchurch for Christian Family Year, 1962–63. The happy family circle, with the mother at its centre, was an ideal that both organisations strove to uphold.

By the 1970s and 1980s the state had taken over some of the society's earlier functions, such as the provision of legal aid and the channelling of maintenance to one-parent families. Newer organisations provided alternative sources of support and advocacy for victims of family violence. Funding problems became acute, and the Wellington and Dunedin branches did not survive the 1980s. The sense of being part of a Federation diminished at the same time.

The two remaining branches responded to these challenges in slightly different ways. Both acknowledged a much broader conception of family than in the past. New economic stresses and new expectations of relationships meant that there was still an acute demand from families and individuals for counselling services, and these remained important in both Auckland and Christchurch. To cope with demand, the Auckland body commenced a telephone counselling service in 1980, staffed mainly by trained women volunteers. It also began to provide face-to-face counselling at women's refuges and expanded into the North Shore and Hibiscus Coast.  Recognising Auckland’s growing ethnic diversity, it developed new services for migrant and refugee women. Meanwhile the Christchurch society began providing emergency accommodation, a service which proved to be much needed.

1994 – 2018

By 2018, its 125th year of existence, Auckland’s ‘Home and Family Counselling’ was dealing with 1645 cases annually, underpinned by a complex mix of funding from trusts, foundations and contracts with the Ministry for Social Development and Oranga Tamariki. As a twenty-first century charity, its annual reports now referred to IT systems for case managers, visitor numbers to its website, Facebook activity and Instagram followers.

In Christchurch, Home and Family/Te Whare Manaaki Tangata showed a similar reliance on charitable trusts, along with contracts from the Ministry for Social Development. By 2016–17 its emergency accommodation service had transmuted into a residential parenting programme offering more than 3500 nights of support. The Christchurch earthquake of 2011 increased the demand for counselling services, further cementing the organisation’s place in its community despite competition from other providers. In an inspired link with a shared past, Home and Family moved into the former convent of the Anglican Community of the Sacred Name in 2018, finding its first permanent home in a refurbished Christchurch building as old as itself.

Although neither Home and Family Society would by then regard itself as a women's organisation, each still had a predominance of female workers, paid and unpaid. Like most welfare organisations of any antiquity, the Home and Family Societies took on different characteristics in the various centres, reflecting in their operations and histories changing ideologies about family life in New Zealand.

Margaret Tennant


[1] A spokesperson is quoted as saying that the old name gave the impression that the society was not concerned with keeping families together, 'but with taking the woman's part, right or wrong' (NZ Truth, 3 May 1955).

[2] Society for the Protection of Women and Children, Wellington Branch, First Annual Report, 1898, p. 2.

[3] Society for the Protection of Women and Children, Canterbury Branch, Seventh Annual Report, 1914–1915, p. 2.

[4] Dive, 1970, p. 11.

Unpublished sources

Society for the Protection of Home and Family Auckland records, AIM

Society for the Protection of Home and Family Christchurch records, SPHF/Home and Family Society Christchurch/Te Whare Manaaki Tangata, Christchurch

Society for the Protection of Home and Family Dunedin records, Hocken

Society for the Protection of Home and Family Wellington records, ATL

Published sources

Dalziel, Raewyn, Focus on the Family. The Auckland Home and Family Society 1893–1993, Auckland, 1993

Dive, Winefride, 'The Society for the Protection of Women and Children', New Zealand Social Worker, January 1970, pp. 11–12

Malcouronne, Brian and Elizabeth, Home and Family Society 1893–1983, A Brief Record, HFS,Auckland, 1983

Tennant, Margaret, The Fabric of Welfare: Voluntary Organisations, Government and Welfare in New Zealand, 1840–2005, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2007

Further sources

Home and Family Counselling Auckland,

Home and Family Society Christchurch/Te Whare Manaaki Tangata,

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