It seems fitting that Whanganui Girls' College should be celebrating their 125th anniversary soon after Women's Suffrage Day. The college employed some of the most highly educated women in the country to inspire young women to achieve excellence in academic, artistic, sporting and home craft subjects. Times may have changed but the essence remains the same reports Liz Wylie.
Back in the 1870s when a proposal was made to build a college for girls in Wanganui, there were numerous bureaucratic hold-ups and resistance from a conservative public.
Post primary education for girls was seen as a waste of public funds by many and it was not until 1891 that Wanganui Girls' College opened on its original site in Liverpool St.
The day after the school was opened by Education Minister William Pember Reeves, the Wanganui Herald ran a long story about the new college describing it as being "situated in one of the most quiet and healthy parts of town."
The school's first principal was Miss C.E.M Harrison who was named as the second Auckland woman to gain a tertiary qualification.
There were 70 foundation students enrolled on the day the school opened on February 3, 1891 and 25 of them came from other locations to become the first Wanganui Girls' College boarders.
Miss Harrison was paid an annual salary of £300 and was charged with responsibility for employing all teaching and domestic staff.
Although she stayed for just two years (a very short tenure compared with most of her successors), she had a profound influence on the first students and staff at the school. She became Mrs Mellsop and would be fondly remembered by the school's first students.
Her first successor was Miss Isobel Frazer who was principal from 1894 until 1910. A gymnasium was established at the school during Miss Frazer's first year and although it was reported that girls took to using the equipment "with gusto", their parents were not impressed and considered it unladylike for their daughters to use the equipment which was sold off in 1903.
During the Frazer era, in 1898, the roll expanded to 114 and the college was acclaimed as the largest of its kind "in the colony."
It was also the year that college magazine Adastrian was founded and the Old Girls' Association was formed.
Isobel Frazer is credited with providing strong and inspired leadership during her years as principal and she also made a very valuable contribution to the future of New Zealand's economy.
Taking a well-earned break in 1904, she travelled to China with her sister and was given seeds from an unusual brown fruit growing there.
The Chinese gooseberry would become known as kiwifruit and one of New Zealand's biggest commercial export crops.
After the Frazer era came the Cruickshank era which would last for 20 years and see the school through WWI.
Christina Cruickshank who had achieved Masters Degrees in science and arts would broaden the school curriculum to cater for girls who aspired to develop their home making skills right through to those who wished to go to university.
The First World War led to special efforts at the school of knitting, sewing and fund raising to help support New Zealand soldiers overseas and returned service men at home.
"War has helped bring us many things - the weak spots in our national life and our responsibility for the future. We are conscious there are things in our education that we have barely touched yet, so we must move on," wrote Miss Cruickshank.
When the war ended, the school had a science department and the present day Whanganui East site had been purchased.
The camera club was established at the college during the Cruickshank era and budding journalists could get experience writing for the Adastrian.
One such student was Stella Scouller (nee Meuli) who attended Wanganui Girls' College from 1924-1932.
When she was interviewed for the school's 100th anniversary in 1991, Mrs Scouller, one time lady editor of the Wanganui Herald, said she had immense respect for Miss Cruickshank.
"I loved her," she said. "She was an amazing woman and a brilliant scholar. I held her in great awe."
Miss Cruickshank was succeeded by Agnes Tizard, principal from 1932 until 1938.
New Zealand was in the depths of depression when Miss Tizard came to WGC and some boarders at the school were leaving to find work in their home towns to help support their families.
Other seniors came back for another year at the school because they could not find work.
They were welcomed back by Miss Tizard who said it was "Far better for these girls to continue their education than become prey to the demoralisation danger that lies in the path of our unemployed youth."
When Miss Tizard left to marry Taihape farmer and WGC Board of Governors member Mr D.G Gordon in 1938, the school roll had increased to almost 400 and there were 100 boarders.
The next principal was Miss Marjorie Baker who would lead the school for 17 years and oversee the school's move to the new site in Jones St.
Miss Baker would lead the school through the WWII years when air raid trenches were dug in the sports grounds and evacuation drills were practised.
The most active local members of the Wanganui Girls' College Old Girls' Association are the girls of the 50s who started their college education during the Baker era.
Shirley McDouall, who started at the college in 1953 said she often had her mind on ballet and did not always remember to "keep my head below the parapet."
"Boys got the cane but then their punishment was over whereas ours could be very drawn out," she said.
She remembers having to sit under the clock outside Miss Baker's office for laughing at a teacher when she was really expressing her amusement about something else at the time.
Needlework was a subject she did enjoy and she treasures the School Certificate sampler she made under the instruction of Jean Bauld (nee Evans).
Glenda Lett, Paerau Thompson and Annette Crafar were in the class of 1954 and remember Miss Baker who they referred to as "Bake" with both fondness and awe.
"She was a bit like Napoleon in that she short and a bit of a tyrant," said Glenda.
"But the discipline was good for us."
"We knew where we stood and it made us stronger," said Annette.
The threesome don't remember getting into much trouble at school as they say they were all pretty quiet.
"I was too involved with cricket and hockey," said Annette who has remained a keen central districts player and organiser.
Association president Megan Wallbutton started at WGC in 1955 and was embracing the birth of the rock and roll era.
"I had a picture of Elvis Presley taped under the lid of my desk," she said.
"There were regular locker inspections so you couldn't put anything up in there."
The group would see the retirement of Miss Baker in 1955 and welcome new principal Miss Alexia Page.
There were 620 girls enrolled at the college that year and classes were able to move from prefabs to new classrooms as well as assemble in the new hall and enjoy a new swimming pool.
"Miss Page was nice," said Paerau "but she was sad because she had lost her fiancé during the war and she was very affected by the Anzac services."
Miss Page was succeeded by Margaret Ellis in 1967 and it was during this era that building of the new Adastra hostel was completed in Anzac Parade.
Boarders were able to move from the 84-year-old Wickham House at the old school site to their comfortable new home.
Miss Ellis was succeeded by Maureen (Molly) Sadler in 1976 when the School Certificate and University Entrance exam systems were being overhauled.
Students of this era would see the introduction of computer studies and a new emphasis on science and mathematics which had previously been seen as the preserve of males.
After the Sadler era came the Hall era when Annette Hall became principal in 1983.
Miss Hall would introduce modular studies where students could elect to study subjects like psychology, computers, Maori, photography, employment studies or fitness for a term and receive a completion certificate.
Miss Hall was succeeded by Lyn Flett in 1989 and it was Mrs Flett who would see the school celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1991.
After her first year, she noted how efficiently WGC students were embracing computer technology, scientific studies and mathematics.
Mrs Flett was succeeded by Jo Coutts in 1995 and it was during her tenure that much of the planting was done in the school grounds and the technology suite was developed.
The zig-zag walkway between the main block and gymnasiums was developed during that time and the pastel colour scheme was introduced.
Vivianne Murphy became principal in 2004 and would oversee the gymnasium upgrade, the development of the performing arts centre and the building of the boardroom and gallery.
Mrs Murphy stayed until 2014 when deputy principal Tania King was appointed in her place.
With a masters degree in education and ten years experience working at WGC under her belt, Mrs King is well qualified for the role.
There are of course, hundreds of teachers and students who have passed through the college over the past 12 and half decades who are worthy of mention if space allowed.
The achievements of past pupils in academia, sports, politics, arts, science and technology are too numerous to include here.
The school has seen so many advances for women since its establishment yet the traditional "womanly arts" that existed 125 years ago have never been down-graded or trivialised over the decades.
Whanganui Girls' College students can aspire to great heights in any area they choose but they can still aspire to be wives, mothers, cooks and crafters as well.
Registrations have now closed for the Wanganui Girls' College 125th Anniversary celebrations to be held on Labour Weekend 21st - 23rd October.
Information is available on the college website wanganui-girls.school.nz