Bessie Te Wenerau Grace, educational leader

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Bessie Te Wenerau Grace, 1889-1944, was the first Māori woman to receive a degree from a university. 

Bessie Grace

Bessie Grace. Image supplied by author

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.

Bessie Grace and whanau

Bessie Grace and whanau. Image supplied by author

Wene and her siblings lived in Blenheim with their Aunt and Uncle, Archdeacon and Mrs Grace. She 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.

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