ROSS, Dame Grace [Hilda Cuthbert[h]a]
Politician and welfare worker.
A new biography of Ross, Grace Hilda Cuthberta appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Dame “Hilda” Ross was born on 6 July 1883 at Whangarei, the daughter of Adam Nixon, a fireman. She spent her early life in Sydney and her youth in Auckland, studying music, particularly the piano. In January 1904 she married Harry Ross who went to Hamilton the following year to establish the firm of Barton and Ross. She taught music and took a leading part in the life of the community, being particularly active in efforts to raise money for worthy causes. In the influenza epidemic of 1918 she was among those who worked untiringly to help the sick. Her musical activities led to the founding of the Hamilton Choral Society of which she was conductor, while she was also pianist of the Hamilton Operatic Society. In 1927 she was one of the leaders in establishing the Waikato Children's Health Camp League and was secretary of the organisation for over 20 years. Dame Hilda was made a Justice of the Peace in 1938 and entered public life when she was elected to the Waikato Hospital Board in 1941. She became a member of the Hamilton Borough Council in 1944, and deputy mayor the following year. At the outbreak of the Second World War she undertook the task of organising patriotic work in the district, founding the Women's Auxiliary Volunteer Corps, of which she was commandant, and becoming president of the Hamilton Women's Patriotic Committee.
On the death of the National member for Hamilton, F. Findlay, she was elected to represent the city at a by-election in May 1945 and was returned at the five following general elections. After the National victory in 1949 Dame Hilda was made Minister in Charge of the Welfare of Women and Children. This post without departmental responsibilities allowed full scope for her to help those in need, and to speak in Cabinet for the women of New Zealand. In the short-lived Holyoake Cabinet of 1957 she was Minister of Social Security. She represented New Zealand at the 1952 Geneva meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Hamilton recognised her services to the city in 1948 when she was given the freedom of the city. In the 1956 New Year Honours she was created a D.B.E. Her husband died in 1940. There were two sons by the marriage.
Dame Hilda died on 6 March 1959. She was not a strong political partisan; her forthright character and direct manner prevented it. She was one with a great respect for her fellow beings, especially for those in need and she never failed to work for their good.
Dame Hilda evidently adopted the names “Hilda” and “Cuthbert(h)a” at the time of her marriage in 1904.
by James Oakley Wilson, D.S.C., M.COM., A.L.A., Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.
- Waikato Times, 6 Mar 1959 (Obit).