Story: Field, Ethel Maude

Page 1: Biography

Field, Ethel Maude

1882–1967

Community leader

This biography, written by Thelma Luxton, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Ethel Maude Bryant was born in Wellington on 20 December 1882 to Elizabeth Bradley and her husband, Robert Bryant, who drove a wagon for the Gear Meat Preserving and Freezing Company of New Zealand before moving with his family to a property on the Pahiatua Track. Ethel attended Fitzherbert East School, where she became a pupil-teacher at the age of 16, then taught at Ohingaiti School, and Terrace End school in Palmerston North. She also contributed items to many New Zealand newspapers. On 27 December 1905 at All Saints' Church, Palmerston North, Ethel married Walter Fitzgerald Field, a farmer at Fitzherbert East. They were to have five children.

Ethel always helped others in the community, acting as midwife or district nurse when required. In 1927 she became a foundation member of the Palmerston North branch of the Women's Division of the New Zealand Farmers' Union (from 1946 the Women's Division Federated Farmers of New Zealand). Throughout her life she played a prominent part in the organisation, serving as branch president and dominion vice president. She was director of the organisation's bush-nurse and housekeeping scheme, which provided help for ill or overworked rural women in their homes, and she organised the work of the provincial housekeeping secretaries, advising them on wages, hours and emergency assistance. As provincial housekeeping secretary for the Wellington Central region, she sent help to more than a thousand homes. Field was convener of 11 inter-provincial conferences of the WDFF and was their representative on the co-ordinating committee at Massey Agricultural College. She was awarded branch, provincial life and (in 1953) dominion life membership of the WDFF for services rendered to the organisation.

Kainga Moe, a WDFF rest-home and training centre in Palmerston North, was another of her projects. She was secretary of the original committee and became a trustee. Her responsibilities for running the centre ended when Kainga Moe was destroyed by fire in 1958. In 1945 Field became involved with the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua. She worked with Countess Maria Wodzicka, wife of the Polish consul general, and Major Peter Foxley, the camp commandant. The governor general, Sir Bernard Freyberg, presented Ethel with a Polish army sword in recognition of her work with the refugees.

Ethel Field's involvement in politics started during the Reform Party era. With the formation of the Palmerston North women's section of the New Zealand National Party (Reform's successor) in 1937, she became president, a position she held for 14 years. She was also president of the Palmerston North National Club and a member of the electoral committee. By 1946 she was being heralded as 'perhaps the best chairwoman in the Dominion'.

In 1935 Ethel Field had been appointed a justice of the peace and she held this position for 31 years. An Anglican, she taught Sunday school for many years and served with her husband as secretary and trustee of the Church vestry for 21 years. She was on the committee of the All Saints' Children's Home in Palmerston North for 30 years. She also helped found the Aokautere branch of the Dominion Federation of New Zealand Country Women's Institutes, and the Free Kindergarten Association in Palmerston North. She was an active member of the Red Cross and Save the Children Fund, and a vice president of the National Council of Women of New Zealand.

In 1953 Ethel Field was awarded the Coronation Medal and appointed an MBE for her services to the dominion. She died at Palmerston North on 5 July 1967, survived by three daughters and two sons. Her husband, Walter, had died in 1949.

How to cite this page:

Thelma Luxton. 'Field, Ethel Maude', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4f9/field-ethel-maude (accessed 17 June 2019)