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Jean Struthers

Jean Struthers, who lived in three centuries, here aged 100. Source: Macmillan Brown Library, ref 24103.

Botanist and teacher (1899-2002)

Canterbury College had always been co-educational, but that didn’t mean women were easily let into all fields. Jean Struthers studied chemistry for two years, and won prizes, but when it came to taking advanced chemistry the professor did not consider it suitable for girls: too much standing, too strenuous, and only one toilet for everyone. That decision still rankled with Struthers eighty years later.1 Instead, she graduated with a Masters with first class honours in botany in 1922, doing research on the New Zealand cabbage tree. Struthers returned to chemistry while teaching in England, where she became the Head of Department of Chemistry at Twickenham Girls’ Grammar School. When she retired to New Zealand in 1963 Struthers continued to teach for the Correspondence School, where her passion for chemistry inspired students who are now top of the field.


1. A.D. Thomson, ‘Some Pioneer Women Graduates in Botany from Canterbury University College.’ Centre for Studies on N.Z. Science History. Accessed 24 August 2017, http://bts.nzpcn.org.nz/bts_pdf/Cant_2000_34__54-63.pdf.  

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.