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Hutchinson, Amy Hadfield


School hostel matron, spinner and weaver, community leader

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

Amy Hadfield Large, the youngest of four children of Elizabeth Ferguson and her husband, James Stanistreet Large, a cabinet-maker, was born in Napier on 20 May 1874. At the age of nine Amy went to Napier Girls' High School, where she was dux in 1889. She went on to study extramurally for a BA but failed her final exams in 1894. Amy shared an interest in music with her sister, Lillie Large, a professional singer. In 1899 she sang in a concert in aid of the Transvaal War Relief fund in the Theatre Royal, Napier.

From 1901 to 1904 Amy was matron of the boarding hostel at her old high school; a friend, Bessie Spencer, was headmistress. On 30 August 1907, at Napier, Amy married Francis (Frank) Hutchinson, a sheepfarmer from Rissington; the marriage was childless. The homestead on Frank's farm, Omatua, had been unoccupied, except by bees, for years. Amy and Frank restored the house and garden, and Omatua became known as a place where visitors found an 'opportunity for intellectual conversation'.

Amy Hutchinson was tall and slim, and her gentle charm masked formidable organisational skills. At Omatua she organised basket-making, drama, Sunday school and first-aid classes for the country children. In 1911 Bessie Spencer came to live at Omatua. In 1914 she and Amy organised a sewing group and started the Rissington branch of the Red Cross. War work led them into spinning and weaving their own wool.

After Spencer went to work in England in 1916, Amy experimented with plant dyes on wool. She was helped by Frank's botanical knowledge. 'He would', she wrote, 'often dally in his home-comings to gather coprosma bark, kowhai flowers, or a special bit of lichen which he knew would be a treasure-trove to me'. Her experimentation increased after they bought bush land at Puketitiri in 1918.

Bessie Spencer returned to Omatua in 1921, bringing a loom Amy had asked for. The two women continued spinning and weaving and gave demonstrations of their handicrafts. Amy wrote articles on dyeing, which led in 1941 to her being asked to supply information for people spinning and knitting for overseas servicemen. Her booklet, Plant dyeing, was reprinted until 1981.

Religion was important to Amy and she shared her brother Harold's interest in theosophy. He became a leader of the religious group the Havelock Work. The Hutchinsons and Bessie Spencer wrote for their publication, the Forerunner. Amy and Frank were Anglicans but Frank had a Society of Friends background and overseas visitors to Omatua included many Quakers. They attended Society of Friends meetings in Napier and Havelock. Both Amy and Bessie were keenly interested in the occult, experimenting with Ouija boards and spiritual healing.

Bessie Spencer described Amy as the 'spiritual founder' of the women's institutes in New Zealand and it is as their co-founder that she is remembered. In January 1921 Bessie launched the first organisation in the Garden Room at Omatua. Although Amy did not initially take a leadership role she actively supported Bessie's work. After a flood washed away the bridges providing access to Omatua in 1924, members of the institute attended meetings by crossing the river on a raft or in a box suspended from a cable. In 1925 Amy chaired the meeting that established the first provincial federation of women's institutes, and in 1927 she visited institutes in England. She was president of the Rissington Women's Institute and represented it at the first meeting of the Townswomen's Guild in 1932.

Amy Hutchinson's interest in the arts led to her involvement in establishing the Napier Society of Arts and Crafts. She was also connected with the Hawke's Bay Art Gallery and Museum for some 20 years, being made a life member in 1944.

Frank Hutchinson died in 1940. Amy and Bessie left Omatua in 1952 and moved back to Napier. Amy Hutchinson died at Napier on 20 July 1971 aged 97.

How to cite this page:

Susan Upton. 'Hutchinson, Amy Hadfield', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4h39/hutchinson-amy-hadfield (accessed 14 July 2024)