More Than the Ordinary Domestic Drudge: Women and Technical Education in Auckland 1895-1922

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Like many of his generation George George, the director of Auckland's Seddon Memorial Technical College (2) (1902-22), considered marriage and motherhood as women's true vocation and believed in separate but equal education for girls that included some domestic training. In this regard, New Zealand historians often cite him as an advocate for the cult of domesticity, a prescriptive ideology that came to be reflected in the government's education policy during this period. (3) But as Joanne Scott, Catherine Manathunga and Noeline Kyle have demonstrated with regard to technical education in Queensland, rhetoric does not always match institutional practice. (4) Other factors, most notably student demand, but also more pragmatic concerns such as the availability of accommodation, staffing and specialist equipment, can shape the curriculum. Closer scrutiny of surviving institutional records such as prospectuses, enrolment data and the director's reports to the Department of Education, allow us to explore more fully who was given access to particular kinds of knowledge and resources, how long a particular course might take, the choices students made, what was commonplace and what was unusual, and what students might expect once they completed their studies.

To date, New Zealand historians have largely focused on the day technical school; yet in Auckland it was the part-time continuation classes, aimed at young people aged between fourteen and seventeen already in work, that dominated the institution numerically throughout this periods While less than half of all primary school pupils went on to post-primary education, it is perhaps noteworthy that of those who attended technical classes in Auckland, between forty and fifty per cent of technical day school pupils, and approximately one in three of the continuation class students, were females. (6) The earliest surviving enrolment register for evening classes (from 1913) suggests not only that women attended the technical college in significant numbers, but also that they represented a wide cross-section both in age (ranging from fourteen to fifty) and background. (7) Similarly, Shannon Brown in a study of female office workers in Auckland found the children of business, professional and white-collar men, as well as tradesmen, enrolled as day students at the college between 1906 and 1926. (8) While the rhetoric sometimes suggests otherwise, it was probably not the impoverished working-classes who dominated the technical college, at least not during the early years when students were required to pay fees. Even after free' place technical scholarships were introduced in 1904, fees were paid up front and then claimed back if students attended classes on a regular basis. (9) Thus, until such time as detailed quantitative analysis of the surviving enrolment registers is undertaken, I would urge caution in making assumptions about students' backgrounds. Further analysis of enrolment registers will ultimately provide more detailed information about the sex and age of students, their socioeconomic background and their prior education and employment experiences. Until such time, however, just by changing our focus to include the continuation classes, a more complex picture begins to emerge of the role technical education played in the lives of young women during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Early definitions of technical education

The technical education movement that developed in New Zealand from the 1880s was closely linked to wider debates surrounding access to, and the relevance of, schooling. At the turn of the twentieth century, post-primary education was biased towards middle-class boys with an emphasis on academic aspects of the curriculum, matriculation, and entry into the university and the professions, even though only about one in twenty pupils went on to attend university. (10) At Auckland Grammar School, the city's state endowed post-primary school, both sexes received a similar education but in different classrooms. …