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Caroline Freeman (c1853-1914)

Pioneer woman educationalist

Caroline FreemanCaroline Freeman was the first woman to graduate from Otago University and an outstanding educationalist. Born to an English farming family near Halifax in England she emigrated to Otago as a small child in 1858. The family farmed at Abbotsford and Caroline went to the Green Island School. She was its Dux in 1866 and then became a pupil teacher at the school. Though she had no secondary education, she continued to study part-time and in 1872 made a career leap by becoming infant mistress at the large Caversham School. Encouraged by the Caversham Principal, Caroline studied toward the Matriculation exam required for university admission. Passing the exam in 1877, she enrolled at the University in 1878 and began attending classes. It was a hard road: the male students and staff were unwelcoming and each day she walked the seven miles to and from Green Island. She also had to support herself by teaching and tutoring. But after seven hard years Caroline graduated triumphantly with a Bachelor of Arts degree, capping her achievement by winning an essay prize open to all New Zealand undergraduates. She went on to found her own private secondary schools in Dunedin and Christchurch - both named Girton College. Generations of girls were encouraged to follow in her wake, using education to broaden the opportunities available to women in New Zealand. In 1914 Girton College (no longer owned by Freeman) closed and the pupils were amalgamated with those from another small Dunedin private school, Breamar House School, to form the first intake of pupils for the present day Presbyterian Church girls' school - Columba College.

(Photograph, Caversham School Jubilee Souvenir Booklet, 1926, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

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