Page 1: Biography
Coad, Nellie Euphemia
Teacher, community leader, writer
This biography, written by Beryl Hughes, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 3, 1996.
Nellie Euphemia Coad, daughter of Annie Venters McLauchlan, a schoolteacher, and her husband, James Hook Coad, a brewer, was born at New Plymouth, New Zealand, on 15 October 1883. After attending a primary school in Victoria, Australia, Nellie was a pupil of Wellington Girls' High School. In 1903 she became a pupil-teacher at Thorndon School and over the following 13 years taught in a number of Wellington primary schools. She also attended Victoria College, graduating MA with honours in mental philosophy in 1914.
In 1917 Nellie Coad joined the staff of Wellington Girls' College (formerly Wellington Girls' High School), where she was to teach for the next 21 years, becoming head of the department of history, civics and geography. A firm disciplinarian who, according to one of her pupils, gave 'good strong signposts through the confused paths of history', Coad believed in the value of dictating notes. Her authority was such that no one smiled at her frequent instructions to 'leave a line in your best handwriting'.
Nellie Coad directed her considerable reserves of energy and intelligence towards a number of interests. She was on the executive of the New Zealand Educational Institute, a member of the University Entrance Board and vice president of the New Zealand Secondary Schools' Association. She served as a vice president of the National Council of Women of New Zealand in 1921–22 and as president of the Wellington branch in 1922–23. The author of a number of textbooks, a novel and a volume of short stories, she continued her literary interests in her membership of PEN and of the New Zealand Women Writers' and Artists' Society, of which she was the founding president from 1932 to 1934. Her New Zealand from Tasman to Massey, published in 1934, was widely used in schools.
Throughout her teaching career Nellie Coad was concerned about educational opportunities for women, a concern shown in her long involvement in the New Zealand Women Teachers' Association. As a young teacher she had given evidence before the 1912 Education Commission, and had argued cogently for better salaries for women primary-school teachers. She was secretary of the Wellington branch of the NZWTA from 1914 to 1916 and national president from 1920 to 1924. She also represented women teachers on the General Council of Education, set up in 1915. At the third conference of the NZWTA in 1916, she opposed the council's report recommending that all secondary school girls be taught home science. Showing a more feminist spirit than any other member of the conference, Coad argued that girls as well as boys should receive a good general education, since early specialisation would restrict their vocational choices.
Nellie Coad's concern that girls and women should not suffer disadvantages because of their gender was also evident in her criticism of the small space allocated for playing fields in girls' schools. She believed, none the less, that girls were on the whole better served at all-girls' secondary schools than at co-educational schools, where the needs of boys were considered more important. On her retirement from the presidency of the NZWTA it was said that Coad was 'one of the foremost workers in the interests of the girls and women in our schools', and that 'a great measure of the success of the NZWTA is due to her'.
Nellie Coad spent 1937 travelling in Europe, during which time she attended a PEN conference in Paris. She retired from teaching at the end of 1938 and went to live in England. In 1939 she went to a writers' conference in New York where she met Thomas Mann and lunched with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. During the Second World War she was an air-raid warden in London and was hospitalised for several weeks because of injuries sustained while on duty. In 1944 and 1945 she lectured to members of the Royal Air Force on the history and geography of the Pacific region.
On a return visit to New Zealand in 1947 she expressed disappointment at the lack of concern shown by people in Britain towards the empire. 'Britain today is more European than Empire-minded,' she complained. During the same visit she said how she hoped women would be a stronger force in post-war political life. Nellie Coad died, aged 90, at Runwell near Wickford, Essex, on 6 September 1974. She had never married.