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Story: Macfarlane, Edith Mary

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Macfarlane, Edith Mary


Community worker

This biography, written by Kathleen Anderson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Edith Mary Durrieu was born at Torquay, Devonshire, England, on 20 May 1871. She was the daughter of Marianne Feltham and her husband, Louis Adolphus Durrieu, an accountant. Edith travelled to New Zealand with her family when she was about two years old and received her education at Auckland Girls' High School. On 22 September 1890, in Auckland, she married James Buchanan Macfarlane. The couple enjoyed a comfortable life, living in the suburbs of Remuera and Epsom. James owned a mercantile firm and was a director of several companies. He was also a member of the Auckland Harbour Board, the Auckland Orchestral Society and the Auckland Savage Club. Edith was actively involved in local organisations and became one of the city's most prominent community workers.

During the First World War Edith Macfarlane, like many other New Zealand women, responded to an appeal from Lady Liverpool, wife of the governor, asking women to form organisations that would help provide basic necessities and comforts for the troops at home and abroad. She was a skilled organiser, and the various patriotic and welfare societies formed around this time gave her an opportunity to play a useful role. When the New Zealand Branch of the British Red Cross Society was established she was on the joint committee with the Order of St John, and was an official Visitor at the military annexe of Auckland Hospital. She became well known as an executive member of the Auckland Women's Patriotic League, convening the league's ministering committee which met returned soldiers on the wharf and helped them and their dependants adjust to life in peace time. For her services to the community during the First World War Edith Macfarlane was made an OBE in 1919.

After the war and during the economic depression of the 1930s Edith Macfarlane continued her community work and became one of the most prominent organisers of the Auckland branch of the Victoria League. A voluntary organisation with its headquarters in London, it had been established in 1901 to increase understanding and personal friendship among the peoples of the British Empire. The Auckland branch had been formed in 1910. Macfarlane threw her energy into the organisational side of the league's activities, chairing a committee that arranged street collections and bazaars for various benefits. In 1938 she became president of the Auckland branch, the second woman to hold this position, and she continued in office until her death in 1948. Under her leadership the league sent at least £50 worth of food parcels to Britain each month. At the same time she convened the league's sewing circle, which dispatched large quantities of clothing to Britain and to backblocks families in New Zealand who were in need of assistance.

During the Second World War Edith Macfarlane was again prominent in various Auckland patriotic societies. She remained active in the New Zealand Red Cross Society and became president of the ladies' auxiliary of the Navy League's Auckland branch. Throughout this involvement Edith was also a member of the free kindergarten movement and for many years was president of the St James' Free Kindergarten and the Community Sunshine Association. Her interests included tennis, gardening and bridge.

Edith Macfarlane died in Auckland on 2 December 1948, survived by six children; James Macfarlane had died in 1939. In memory of Edith's contribution to the Victoria League, a framed colour picture of Queen Victoria was purchased for the league's rooms in Auckland and an inscribed seat was placed in Albert Park by the league.

How to cite this page:

Kathleen Anderson. 'Macfarlane, Edith Mary', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3m7/macfarlane-edith-mary (accessed 9 June 2023)