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Smith, Frances Hagell


Missionary teacher, welfare worker

This biography, written by Rosemarie Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996. It was updated in February, 2013.

Frances (Fan) Hagell Every was born at Oamaru on 13 February 1877, the fifth of ten children of Henrietta Jeffreys and her husband, Frederick Every, a builder and later farmer. The Every children and their Fulton, Jeffreys and Valpy cousins were the first New Zealand-born generation of these prominent Otago English settler families. However, Fan was raised in an atmosphere of genteel penury, her father often away searching for work and her mother quietly desperate about her children's welfare and dependent on the charity of her kin.

The family had an intense preoccupation with moral and spiritual matters, which was reflected in the involvement of the Everys with several evangelical Protestant denominations, especially Brethren, Wesleyan and Presbyterian. With family assistance the Every daughters eventually had some secondary education at Waitaki Girls' High School, although in Fan's case, not until she was 17. She matriculated at the age of 19, after attending for two years as a half-day pupil. Sisters Ruth and Mary trained as nurses; Fan's initial occupation is unknown.

About 1902 she began housekeeping for her uncle, J. H. Every, in Dunedin. She taught Sunday school at the Andersons Bay Presbyterian Church, and became one of several women teachers to take up foreign mission service. In 1909 she travelled to Canada to keep house for her Baptist minister brother, Frederick, and teach Canadian Indian schoolchildren near Winnipeg, Manitoba.

After travelling to England and the Continent, Fan Every returned to New Zealand to marry Ethelbert (Bert) Cann Smith, a friend of her eldest brother, Jack. The wedding took place at Gore on 15 November 1911. Bert had a well-established legal practice in Gore and was a prominent Methodist and temperance worker. His standing in the community combined with her personal qualities and experiences gave Fan a status that enabled her to pursue her interests and promote her values for a more caring and Christian community. She displayed a flair for leadership, and over the next 37 years played an important role in the expansion of women's organisations in the town, especially those for the welfare and education of women and children.

Her greatest commitments were to the English children's charity Dr Barnardo's Homes, which awarded her a Knight-Commander of the Distinguished Order of Waif-Service medal; and to the Gore branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union of New Zealand, in which she held office almost continuously, including, for many years, that of Cradle Roll secretary. This involved working with mothers and children, offering advice and arranging activities to promote a code of moral education which emphasised abstaining from alcohol. She was also a member of the Gore branch of the Plunket Society; her sister, Mary, was its first nurse.

Fan Smith ensured that her three children – particularly her daughter – had educational opportunities. Her own hobbies included painting and singing lessons, a correspondence journalism course and a reading circle. Afflicted by increasing deafness in her 40s, she struggled with cumbersome and unreliable hearing aids in order to maintain public duties and personal social contact. She took increasing solace in her art, and achieved some competence in landscape painting in oils.

A deep religious faith informed Fan Smith's sense of social responsibility and a lifetime of voluntary community work. She was able to build on the example set by the older generations of women in her family, such as Catherine Fulton, in claiming a public role for women. She had advantages over many of them in that she married later in life, had fewer children, permanent household help, economic security and a better education. Gore women who remember her recall a thoughtful, kindly – though reserved and intellectual – woman whose example they respected. She died at home on 1 November 1948, survived by two sons and a daughter. Her husband had died the year before.

How to cite this page:

Rosemarie Smith. 'Smith, Frances Hagell', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996, updated February, 2013. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3s24/smith-frances-hagell (accessed 19 July 2024)