Wananga landing Wananga landing


20 November 2023

One of Canterbury College's most well known female graduates, Helen Connon.

Canterbury College was coeducational from the very start, even when it was the Canterbury Collegiate Union, and this policy was well supported by the foundation professors, especially John MacMillan Brown. His student, and later wife, Helen Connon was first woman to graduate with an M.A. in the Commonwealth. However not all lecturers were wholeheartedly in agreement. In the 1920s, student Jean Struthers wanted to take Honours in Chemistry but wasn’t allowed to by her professor.

Just because the College admitted women to study, this did not mean that all forms of propriety were abandoned. For example, it was usually expected that women would sit in front at lectures with men sitting behind. This could still be used to an advantage. M.C. Keane recalled that in Professor Haslam’s class “Many of us spent far less time in listening to the Professor than in admiring the ladies back hair or the pretty bust of Clytic over the fireplace.” Outside of classes, they may have been in separate common rooms, but there were still chances to mingle. Some of the early teaching staff, such as Bickerton and Macmillan Brown, regularly invited students to dinner. One graduate reminisced about “...the merry tea at [Bickerton’s] house, the original ideas that gushed from his brain, the little dance [and sometimes a play] in his great salon, … with a soupcon of flirtation with some of the lady students…”

Concern about opportunities for mingling extended to the boys and girls at the two High Schools. When the site of the Boys' High School was chosen, William Rolleston objected that it was too close to the girls’ school and would result in parents withdrawing their daughters from the school. They were obviously relieved when the Girls' High moved to their new site in Cranmer Square. However, girls were still made to walk from the tram stop in Cathedral Square down Armagh Street, while boys were instructed to walk down Worcester Street, a good two blocks apart.

Inevitably there were some who would test the limitations placed on students, including the separation of male and female students. Although it may seem innocent today, in 1905 the University authorities were scandalised when, as a capping gag, male students removed the female students’ gowns from the Women’s Cottage, which was supposedly strictly off limits.

The women’s gowns were not the only clothing that concerned the Board. In the early 1900s the College authorities were forced to pass a resolution that “Students will not be allowed to attend lectures at Canterbury College in any but the customary dress.” This rule was put into place specifically so that female students could not wear reform dress to classes.

The Western Gate on to Rolleston Avenue was also known as the Women's Entrance. It is shown here in a drawing by Molly Davies.
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