Feminist student making a name for equality

By Sophie Ryan

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House captains Juliet Esveld (left) and Geneva Hamilton, of new house Sheppard at Girls' High. Photo/John Stone
House captains Juliet Esveld (left) and Geneva Hamilton, of new house Sheppard at Girls' High. Photo/John Stone

A feminist movement led by a student at Whangarei Girls' High School sprung up last year and has initiated the re-naming of a school house.

Juliet Esveld, 16, came across a passage about Richard Seddon, Prime Minister from 1893 to 1906, in a novel she was studying for level two English, suggesting he didn't support equality for women.

Juliet has always been proud of her house - Seddon - and aspired to be house captain once she was in year 13. Learning about Mr Seddon's anti-feminist position disappointed her, she said, and made her think hard about whether this was the right house name for Whangarei Girls' High School.

Juliet talked it over with friend and fellow house captain Geneva Hamilton and decided to write a letter to principal Anne Cooper in April last year, suggesting the school rename the gold house to Sheppard, for suffragette Kate Sheppard.

"It was just an idea, I didn't think it would go anywhere. I did hope though," Juliet said.

Principal Anne Cooper said when she read the letter Juliet wrote to her she felt immensely proud.

"It's exactly what you want from your students - that element of critical thinking and reflection," Mrs Cooper said.

"When the letter was read out to the staff Juliet wasn't there but there was basically a standing ovation."

Mrs Cooper and Juliet consulted with staff, the Old Girls Association and students before finally putting it to a vote.

Changing the name to Sheppard was what the majority wanted, and was done in a formal ceremony at the first assembly of this year.

Mrs Cooper said she thinks Juliet is a special leader and an inspirational figure to younger students.

"This has been a once-in-a-career sort of thing to happen here," she said.

Juliet said she received a few negative comments from people who didn't want to change the house name, but most staff and students have been supportive.

"It just shows people that you can change things if you believe in it and are passionate about it," she said.

No social studies or history classes at Girls' High teach about Kate Sheppard, something that might need to be changed in the future, Juliet said.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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