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Helen Connon

Teacher (1859/60-1903)

The first woman in the British Empire to graduate with an MA with honours, Helen Connon showed brilliance early – when leaving Australia for New Zealand aged five, her teacher came to see her off and said: “Never grudge any trouble that is taken for that child’s education; she will repay everything that is done for her.”1

Her mother heeded those words. Connon studied at the church school for boys in Hokitika, because the girls’ school was too elementary. When the family moved to Christchurch, John Macmillan Brown avoided a public row with anti-women’s education members of Canterbury College’s Board of Governors by just quietly taking on Connon as a student. She achieved her MA in Latin and English in 1881, and was Principal of Christchurch Girls’ High School by 1883. Connon married Macmillan Brown in 1888 and attempted to combine marriage and motherhood with continuing a career. Unfortunately her health deteriorated and she died young.

Reference: Macdonald, Penfold, and Williams, The Book of New Zealand Women., p. 150.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.