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Story: Field, Henry Edward

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Field, Henry Edward


Educational psychologist, educationalist, university professor

This biography, written by David McKenzie, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Henry Edward Field was born on 11 July 1903 in Christchurch, the son of Henry Field, a constable, and his wife, Violet Maud Elizabeth Sturmer. He spent his early years in Ngapara and Duntroon, North Otago, and from 1916 to 1920 attended Timaru Boys’ High School. After one further year as a pupil-teacher at Timaru Main School, Henry completed a two-year course at Christchurch Training College while studying concurrently at Canterbury College. He began to attend full time in 1924, winning a Senior Scholarship that year and graduating MA with honours in philosophy and psychology in 1926. From 1926 to 1929, while assistant lecturer in the philosophy department, he furthered his research interests in the psychopathology of criminal behaviour. He made an investigation of homosexuality, and interviewed 40 inmates of New Plymouth prison.

In 1929 Henry Field was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, which provided him with two years’ postgraduate study in the United States. He studied neuropsychiatry at Tufts College, near Boston, and engaged in research projects at the Massachusetts state prison. He then studied for a year at Harvard University under G. W. Allport, G. E. Mayo and Sheldon Glueck, leading American scholars in the psychology of criminal behaviour and delinquency. Field’s prime interest lay in remedial techniques that might be made available to the professional therapist.

In 1931 Field embarked on PhD research at the University of London. His topic involved a critical analysis of the English borstal system and his supervisor and mentor was Cyril Burt, a prominent British academic in educational psychology. While a student Field met his future wife, Helen Turner Campbell, a Scottish medical practitioner, whom he married in London on 9 February 1933. They were to have two children. In 1933 Field was appointed as a research assistant working in educational guidance; he later published two books on education in conjunction with Susan Isaacs and other specialists. He was promoted to a lectureship at the Institute of Education, University of London, in 1936, but a year later he moved back to New Zealand when he accepted the chair of education at Canterbury University College. He was 33.

For many years Field had to provide a full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses with a very small staff. His teaching duties were onerous and left him little time to pursue his own research. A kindly and supportive man, he was reluctant to fail students, once insisting that one had achieved a ‘really good D’. Steadily, however, he built up a department and staff which had a reputation for excellence in its postgraduate work and particular strengths in psychometrics and remedial techniques.

Meanwhile, Helen had commenced her lengthy New Zealand medical career, in which she specialised in improving the health and welfare of children and their mothers. Together with Henry, in 1938 she wrote a chapter on hygiene in the infant school, which was published in a book about early primary school education. From 1939 to 1948 she was commandant and medical officer of the No 4 Detachment (VAD) of the North Canterbury centre of the New Zealand Red Cross Society. From 1940 to 1966 she was school medical officer for the Department of Health in Christchurch, and was particularly sympathetic towards the parents of disadvantaged children. She was a founder and president of the Canterbury Playcentre Association and a vice president of the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Family Planning Association (as was her husband).

Henry Field remained at the University of Canterbury until he retired in 1968, after 32 years in office as professor and head of department in education. Although his predecessor, James Shelley, had a higher public profile, Field brought to his position more thorough research experience, and he encouraged sociological study at Canterbury. Personally acquainted with leading educationalists in the United States and Great Britain, he sought to introduce his Christchurch students to the best of overseas educational thought and practice. In the late 1960s he was chairman of the New Zealand National Advisory Council on the Training of Teachers. In the local community he was involved in many organisations; for example, as director of the Canterbury district branch of the WEA, as a New Zealand Council member of the New Zealand Crippled Children Society, and, in the late 1930s, he was closely involved with the New Zealand Vocational Guidance Association and chair of the civic youth employment committees.

Henry Field’s achievements were recognised in a variety of ways. In 1943 he was elected a fellow of the British Psychological Society, and in 1973 he was made an OBE for his services to education. The Henry Field library at the Christchurch College of Education commemorates his seven-year term of office from 1969 as the founding chairman of the Christchurch Teachers’ Training College Council. He was made professor emeritus on his retirement. Helen Field died in 1970. Henry Field died in Christchurch on 28 March 1991, survived by a son and daughter.

How to cite this page:

David McKenzie. 'Field, Henry Edward', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5f4/field-henry-edward (accessed 19 July 2024)