University Professor

New Zealand's first female university professor

As its name might have suggested, "The Tin Shed" in Dunedin's old School of Mines offered a humble beginning for women's higher education in New Zealand just over a century ago.

But Winifred Boys-Smith, our nation's first female university professor, rightly saw Otago's new school of home science and domestic arts as something much more than its primitive setting.

Amid an unwelcoming and male-dominated world, the school's opening in 1911 was seen by some as a token effort to counter social change and a declining birthrate.

Boys-Smith, on the other hand, saw it as a "great force in the education of women".


She believed domestic skills had increasingly come to be seen as menial, and the educational programme she set up sought to augment this with strong scientific education.

She was soon joined by Helen Rawson, a lecturer in chemistry, applied chemistry and social and household economics.

The school offered a three-year bachelor of science in home science degree programme and a diploma course. A hall of residence, Studholme House, was established in 1915, to accommodate students from outside Dunedin.

Many of her graduates went on to become home science teachers, who were in high demand when science became a compulsory subject for girls in all secondary and district high schools from 1917.

Outside the demands of the school, Boys-Smith found time to form the Ladies' Literary and Debating Club for university women in 1912, and from 1911 to 1917 was a member of the central council of the Society for the Health of Women and Children.

She returned to England in 1921, but by that point, her work was done.

Within just a decade of the school's opening, the roll had climbed from five to 71.