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Bessie Te Wenerau Grace

Wene Grace was elected as Vice President of the Canterbury College Students’ Association Executive in 1910 (seated second from the left), and her brother, Lawrence Te Heuheu, standing second from the left). Image credit: MB1448, University of Canterbury

First Māori woman university graduate, educator (1889-1944)

Wenerau Grace was the first Māori woman to receive a degree from a university. In the first half of the 20th century, she also became an educational leader. Grace’s Māori mother was the eldest daughter of the chief of Ngāti Tūwharetoa. Her European father had served in parliament, and wanted his children to be educated at a New Zealand European school.

Grace attended Nelson College for Girls under New Zealand’s first female university graduate, Kate Edger, then enrolled at Canterbury College in 1905. Later, after teaching at several New Zealand schools, she moved to London as a novice nun. There she completed her university degree in 1926 and also went on to graduate with a Master of Arts from the University of London. As Sister Eudora, Grace then became a school administrator, staying as headmistress of St Michael’s Grammar School in Melbourne until she died.1


1. Women Educators, Leaders and Activists, accessed 7 August 2017, https://books.google.com/books/about/Women_Educators_Leaders_and_Activists.html?id=nL1CBAAAQBAJ.

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.