Page 1: Biography
Wallace, Julia Nannie
Teacher, principal, community leader, local politician
This biography, written by Mary D. Davies, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Julia Nannie Wallace was born in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, USA, on 21 December 1907, the elder of two children of Carrie Pierpoint Currens and her husband, John Napier Wallace, an electrical engineer. He headed the introduction of the automatic telephone system in Australia and New Zealand and in 1914 the family came to Wellington.
A bout of poliomyelitis as a child caused Julia to walk with a limp. She attended primary schools in Kelburn (until 1918) and Khandallah (1919–20), and then went to Wellington Girls’ College (1921–24). At Victoria University College she completed her MA in 1929 (and a BCom in 1943). A particular sorrow was the death of her brother, John, in battle during the Second World War.
Julia taught at Waimate High School, New Plymouth Girls’ High School, Wellington Girls’ College, and Ashburton High School, where she was senior mistress. From 1948 to 1970 she was principal of Palmerston North Girls’ High School. Her 22 years there were notable for her concern for the girls in her charge and her support of her staff. A long-cherished ambition was to have a girls’ hostel opposite the school for pupils from country areas, and she was angered with the government when this did not eventuate. Ironically, the Palmerston North City Council later named that land Wallace Park in her honour.
Julia Wallace was an executive member of the New Zealand Post-primary Teachers’ Association (1953–60 and 1963) and in 1961 became its first woman president. In 1959 she was the only woman to be appointed to the Equal Pay Implementation Committee of the public service. (In 1990, when the National government repealed the pay equity legislation, she wrote to the minister of finance, Bill Birch, expressing her outrage.) She was the first woman to become a city councillor in Palmerston North, serving from 1962 to 1968. In her opinion the gender difference did not cause many problems and she was amused when a fellow councillor told her that she thought like a man.
Because of her disability Julia worked tirelessly for the New Zealand Crippled Children Society. Her interest in the position and education of women drew her to the YWCA and the New Zealand Federation of University Women (NZFUW), which she represented on the Manawatu branch of the National Council of Women of New Zealand. She was several times president of the Manawatu branch of NZFUW, served on the national halls of residence committee and was awarded the organisation’s highest honour, member emerita, in 1973. She was also a justice of the peace. Her work in these areas and for numerous organisations such as the Manawatu Museum Society and the Royal Life Saving Society, was recognised in 1968 by her appointment as an OBE. In 1991 Julia Wallace was awarded a Massey University medal for being ‘one of the region’s most distinguished citizens’ and for contributing to ‘an astonishingly wide range of activities’.
Wallace overcame ill health and disability to work for the good of others. A forceful, idiosyncratic and indomitable woman, she expected a high standard of herself and all those who came into contact with her. She was an indefatigable entertainer at her home in Te Awe Awe Street and every year friends and their children were invited to view her beautifully decorated Christmas tree as part of the Christmas ritual. She never married. Julia Wallace died at Palmerston North on 12 December 1991.