Lady Victoria Plunket
Child welfare advocate

Pioneering child welfare advocate and namesake of the Plunket Society

Lady Victoria Plunket, who gave her name to New Zealand's Plunket Society, was a British aristocrat looking for a cause to support.

And with her sisters' roles in British nursing politics, Plunket NZ - called the Society for the Promotion of the Health of Women and Children at its foundation in 1907 - was a good fit.

It also helped that she was a mother of seven, soon to be eight, children.

Lady Victoria was the wife of Lord William Plunket, Governor-General of New Zealand from 1904 to 1910.


Her father, Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, first marquess of Dufferin and Ava, had been the Governor-General of Canada and Viceroy of India. Queen Victoria had been Lady Victoria's godmother.

Historian Melanie Oppenheimer credits Lady Victoria with far more than a passive role in the Plunket Society, of which she was patron.

Oppenheimer says in the NZ Journal of History that the creation of a professional Plunket nursing service was Lady Victoria's idea. The nursing service set Dr Truby King's Plunket Society apart and established it as the dominant model of child and mother welfare groups across the Empire.

Lady Victoria threw herself into the society and went on a national lecture tour, speaking about baby feeding and welfare.

She attracted large audiences - at least 200 at an afternoon meeting in Christchurch in 1908, followed by another in the evening attended by more than 350, according to the Lyttelton Times.

Not limited to lecturing and supporting the society, Lady Victoria also took on design work, patenting a special hood for baby prams, which she licensed to a Christchurch manufacturer.

Some years after the Plunkets returned to Britain, Lady Victoria invited King there to create the Babies of the Empire Society, later called the Mothercraft Training School, which implemented some of what had been learned in New Zealand.