Laura Ingram, JP, MBE
Motueka Borough Councillor
1944 - 1947
In 1944 thirty-two year old primary school teacher Laura Ingram became the first woman councillor in the Nelson/ Tasman region when elected to the Motueka Borough Council. She was born in Murchison in 1912 to Garden Ingram, a Scot, and Flora Cook from Riwaka. After a time in Riwaka where Garden worked as a blacksmith, the family moved to Motueka to run a guesthouse. Laura attended Motueka District High School and was head prefect and dux in 1929. Her desire to become a teacher was initially frustrated by the closure of Teachers' Training Colleges in 1932 at the depths of the Great Depression. But in 1935 she commenced teacher training in Christchurch where, in her first year, she was a member of the student executive and woman president the following year.
After a probationary year teaching in Motueka, Laura took up a sole-charge teaching position at Ōngarue in the King Country. It was here that an interest in Maori culture took root. After six years she returned to Motueka for good, taking up a sole-charge position at Hau, a side- school of Motueka District High School. In 1952 she was appointed supervisor of the junior section of the main school, which separated off in 1955 and was named Parklands School at Laura's suggestion. Laura remained at Parklands School until her retirement in 1965, aged 53.
Hers was a life of vigour and vitality. At 20 years of age she was cycling the dusty country roads around Riwaka and Upper Moutere recruiting girls to take part in an outdoor basketball competition. She later formed the local Old Girls' Basketball Club and was its first president. A recent biographical sketch captures the image of a lively young woman proud of her Scottish heritage, marching as drum major at the head of the Motueka Ladies' Highland Pipe Band:
'tall, robust and resplendent in her father's black busby hat, scarlet jacket and red tartan kilt and plaid.'1. An ex-pupil has recalled that 'on the day the Second World War ended, she climbed onto the old Post Office Hotel balcony dressed as Winston Churchill, complete with cigar...waving a flag and giving the V- for-victory sign'.2
It was this vigour that sustained a life of community involvement embracing more than eighteen groups or organisations. Her single term on the Motueka Borough Council was followed by 28 years on the Nelson Hospital Board (1947-59; 1962-78). During this time Laura helped transform the Phyllis Moffat Hospital, Motueka, from a maternity provider to a geriatric hospital. Education always took a prominent place in her life. She helped establish the Motueka Free Kindergarten Association, of which she was president for 25 years, and the town's first kindergarten bore her name. She also developed a close association with Motueka's Maori community, facilitating the relocation of the old Hau School building on Pah Street in 1955 to Te Awhina Marae for meetings and educational purposes. Laura was the first woman president of the local branch of the New Zealand Educational Institute, president of the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union from 1966 to 1975, and a member of the National Advisory Council on pre-school education.
She explained her attitude to community activity in characteristically direct fashion: 'If you do not help the place you choose to live in, you miss a great opportunity.'3 Hers was a contribution that brought together a rare combination of vigorous and sometimes 'fiery' advocacy with 'strict attention to detail and procedure.'4 Fittingly, she was awarded an MBE in 1965 by Prime Minister Keith Holyoake who had deep family roots in Riwaka; Holyoake had married Laura's sister, Norma, in 1934. Laura Ingram died in 1994. (1912 - 1994).
Sources used in this story
- ’Carol Markwell, 'Ingram, Laura May Cook' DNZB, Te Ara, 2000.
- 'Giving Much Back to the Community Which Nurtured Her.' Nelson Evening Mail, 21 April 1962, p.7.
- Markwell, 'Ingram, Laura'
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Further sources - Laura Ingram, JP, MBE
- Richardson, S., Henry, E., Collingwood, G. Mitchell, H. (2018). Women decision-makers Nelson and Tasman 1944-2018. Nelson, New Zealand. National Council of Women.
- Community leader farewelled. (1994, December 10). Nelson Evening Mail. p.3.