Page 1: Biography
England, Maud Russell
Teacher, feminist, educationalist, art dealer
This biography, written by Beryl Hughes, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Maud Russell England was born on 30 December 1863 in Rugby, Warwickshire, England, the daughter of Russell England, an army officer, and his wife, Emily Alice Ainsworth. She attended Oxford High School for Girls and then her father offered her the choice of going to Oxford University or studying abroad. She chose the latter, and went to Dresden in Germany, but she does not appear to have taken a degree and may not have attended any university.
Poor health led Maud England to emigrate to New Zealand and she settled in Wellington in 1902, probably with some private means. She lived for the rest of her life in the capital, where she played an active part in educational and cultural life, impressing everyone who knew her with her intellectual abilities, talent for organisation and forceful character.
England became closely associated with Victoria University College, helping with student clubs, conducting informal Bible study classes and occasionally judging student debates. She was founding vice president of the Women's Social Investigation League, which met at the college, and was a Workers' Educational Association representative on the Tutorial Committee of Victoria University College from 1917 to 1921. She lectured – mainly on literature – to WEA classes from 1918 to 1924 and again from 1926 to 1928. She also taught English literature to girls at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in the 1930s.
For 40 years from 1912 Maud England was a member of the council of the Wellington Free Kindergarten Association (until 1917 called the Richmond Free Kindergarten Union) and was a vice president from 1918 until 1926. She was one of a group of women whose vision led to the creation in 1926 of the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union. As a representative of the Wellington association she attended executive meetings of the union, joined deputations to the ministers of health and education, and was at the centre of the negotiations for a national salary scale for kindergarten teachers.
Her most important contribution was made as the honorary secretary-treasurer of the union from 1941 to 1949 and as a member of its executive. Working from her home in Molesworth Street, Thorndon, with no assistants and very few technical aids, she corresponded with kindergartens throughout the country, providing advice and encouragement. She was chosen by the Department of Education to be a kindergarten representative on the important Consultative Committee on Pre-school Educational Services in 1945. In addition, she maintained her contact with the Wellington kindergarten council, chairing its education committee, and lectured to trainee kindergarten teachers in literature, psychology and the history of education.
Maud England's involvement in the kindergarten movement led to a long association with the National Council of Women of New Zealand, which she attended as a kindergarten delegate. She was one of the women who re-established the Wellington branch in 1917, and was elected its first president. She represented the branch at most NCW conferences from 1919 (when she was elected a vice president) until 1935. She showed particular interest in social and educational matters and in the constitution of the organisation.
Literature and art were abiding passions, stimulated by her contacts in England. She was friendly with artists there, including Frances Hodgkins, whom she met when Hodgkins was in Wellington in 1904–5. A sister who ran a bookshop in England sent left-wing newspapers and periodicals, and Maud England also imported books not easily obtainable in New Zealand. Her friends and their children borrowed books from her magnificent though rather disorganised library. The children were delighted with the books, but some referred to her as 'Merrie England' because of her severe appearance.
Maud England kept abreast of international developments in arts and crafts and made at least one return trip to Europe. In her later years she had a shop in Molesworth Street opposite her home, and in 1935 was listed in a business directory as a 'fancy art dealer'. She imported pottery, china, glassware, toys and tablecloths, which had a style not to be found elsewhere in the city.
Tall and angular, a rapid but precise speaker, Maud England had a formidable presence, which perhaps inspired more respect than love. Her impact on her contemporaries was considerable. J. C. Beaglehole called her 'the chief intellect among the women of Wellington'. E. H. McCormick described her as a 'beacon of erudition' and referred to her 'modest salon in Molesworth Street' where Wellington intellectuals gathered.
After a series of disabling strokes, Maud England's last years were spent in Silverstream Hospital, where she died on 12 May 1956. She had never married. 'I am a bluestocking', she once told a puzzled young nurse at Silverstream. Even when her mind was clouded at the end, she retained a grasp of the core of her identity.