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Story: Rood, Grace Alexandra

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Rood, Grace Alexandra


School dental nurse

This biography, written by Margaret A. Gray, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Grace Alexandra Rood was born on 27 November 1893 at Hampden (Tikokino), Hawke's Bay, the daughter of Elizabeth Paterson Begg and her husband, Albert Rood, a farmer. She attended Hampden and Hatuma primary schools, but little is known of her life until she applied to join the first draft of school dental nurse trainees in 1921.

The New Zealand School Dental Service had been established at a time when there was a shortage of dentists and a high incidence of dental decay. It aimed to provide dental care for primary schoolchildren by training young women who had been selected on the basis of their academic achievement, sound health and pleasing personality. Grace Rood missed selection into the first intake of 35 by one place, but was accepted for the second draft in 1922. After completing the two-year course in Wellington, she was appointed school dental nurse in charge of the Waipukurau area, which included Waipawa, Otane and outlying districts.

In the early days of the School Dental Service many of the premises and facilities were provided by local communities. Rood's first clinic was in a shop that the Waipukurau Borough Council had procured in the main street. After some months she moved to a house in Northumberland Street, which she shared with the Plunket nurse. She worked there until a purpose-built clinic was erected in the school grounds in 1930.

Along with other dental nurses trained in the 1920s, Rood saw her first task as being to allay her patients' fear and suspicion, and to establish public confidence in the service. Children sent from the infant classes to the nurse were naturally apprehensive and frequently made for home, rather than the clinic. Teachers were usually co-operative, pleased to be able to discard the bottles of oil of cloves kept specifically for children with aching teeth.

When the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake struck, Grace Rood was conducting a clinic at the Waipawa sub-base. Her young patient fled, still clutching the basin, and both were fortunate to escape uninjured. As her clinic was uninhabitable, Rood assisted with relief work, serving in the dressing station at Waipukurau and travelling to Wellington as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment on a casualty train. Returning to work at Otane after the earthquake, Rood lived for 10 weeks in a tent in the hotel grounds. With the appointment of a second dental nurse to take over the Waipawa–Otane area, Rood was responsible for opening a sub-base at Porangahau to treat children from the wide coastal area. Her first clinic was a vacant schoolhouse with no electricity, and she used a Primus stove to sterilise her instruments and boil water. Eventually two shelters from the Pukeora Sanatorium were transported to the school grounds and converted into a more permanent clinic.

Grace Rood travelled by service car to the sub-base at Porangahau, and by train to Otane and Waipawa. While working at Porangahau she was given an English terrier called Herbert, who was a great favourite with the children. She took him to the school and during the winter dressed him in little knitted coats.

Grace continued living in Waipukurau after she retired from the service in December 1948. She never married, and died at the local hospital on 12 February 1981. The success of the School Dental Service can be largely attributed to the dedication and perseverance of nurses such as Grace Rood who pioneered the service through its formative years to earn the respect and gratitude of numerous New Zealand communities.

How to cite this page:

Margaret A. Gray. 'Rood, Grace Alexandra', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4r26/rood-grace-alexandra (accessed 8 December 2023)