Lives of extraordinary women celebrated

19 December 2012


On 6 December a book of special significance was admired and officially handed over to the University Library by the Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust (KEECT) at a celebration at University House.

Hand made of vellum parchment and gold tooled, the large leather bound book holds within its pages the stories of some extraordinary women, all of whom were members of the Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Federation of University Women at some period from its beginnings in 1920 until its closure in 2006.

The book was started in 1955 by hand inscribing the educational and public service contributions of deceased members. When the KEECT was established in 2006 it undertook to continue work on the book and its trustees decided to also include in it “living memorials” to such outstanding women as Dame Dorothy Winstone.

Emeritus Professor Charmian O’Connor, chair of the KEECT, told guests that her mother had joined the branch in 1950 when they moved to Auckland, and she recalled the fundraising work that she did, such as helping to make regalia to hire out for graduation ceremonies. “I well remember her cutting out hoods, hand sewing fur onto them and hand hemming curtains for the refurbished O’Rorke Hall. She was typical of members of that time, well educated and generally not in employment.” The KEECT now oversees the operation of Academic Dress Hire, a highly successful business which funds an expanding programme of awards and scholarships for women and girls in the Auckland area.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Equity Trudie McNaughton said that recording the stories was very important, for two reasons, ”firstly to acknowledge the taonga left to us and, secondly, to inspire us to set ambitious goals for women, for participation and success for women, in all aspects of society”.

She noted that the book was not only a celebration of individual women and their dreams but of the determination of these women to work together. “That meant their own talents were magnified by others. The women we honour today have accomplished a great deal themselves, and more by working together.”

View a gallery of photos from the event

Jane Bellamy, who co-ordinates and administers the awards funded by the KEECT and is herself featured in the book, read out a few examples of the 59 entries. One she chose was Phyllis Vincent, who was a member for more than 60 years. Phyllis was the one to raise the idea of setting up the academic regalia business, after attending an NZFUW convention in Dunedin. “Phyllis’s enthusiasm for this idea has given many women opportunities with an education that otherwise may never have been realised,” Jane said. It was also Phyllis who mooted the idea of the Memorial Book, to fulfil her wish to acknowledge those who had gone before her.

Among the guests at the celebration event were former branch members and their family and friends, the author of the 13 entries in the Living Memorials section, Dr Michelle Smith, calligrapher Theresa Cashmore, KEECT Trust Manager Sue Marshall, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Engagement) Professor Jenny Dixon.

Wild weather did not keep many away. As master of ceremonies Amy Malcolm said, using the words of American entrepreneur Vivian Greene, “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to's about learning to dance in the rain - something that each contributor to the Memorial Book has learnt to do.”

The Memorial Book was presented to University of Auckland Librarian Janet Copsey, and is now a part of the Special Collections section in the Main Library at the City Campus.