Story: Haselden, Frances Isabella

Page 1 - Biography

Haselden, Frances Isabella

1841/1842?–1936

Headmistress

This biography was written by Esther Irving and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Frances Isabella Haselden was born probably in 1841 or 1842 in London, England, the daughter of Maria Simpson Moore and her husband, Charles Haselden. The family emigrated to New Zealand in 1860 or 1861. Frances obtained a post as governess in Auckland, where her father was appointed a commissioner of Crown lands. Her next position, from January 1866, was at a country school in Wairoa South (Clevedon). She complained of unsatisfactory conditions, but seemed more content after the Reverend Vicesimus Lush had a house built for her by January 1867. The school flourished, even admitting several boarders. However, during 1867, when the impoverished provincial Board of Education slashed teachers' salaries and capitation grants for students, her school became unviable. Apparently she then taught with her sister at Shortland Street school, Auckland.

In 1874 she was appointed headmistress of Kauaeranga Girls' School in the thriving and vigorous mining and timber-milling town of Thames. At first the new school attracted mainly children of poorer parents, but Frances Haselden soon established a good reputation. When Kate Macdonald, the lively wife of a prominent solicitor and later mayoress, braved public opinion by sending her daughter to Haselden's school, she did so because it was the best in the district. Her example was rapidly followed, and Kauaeranga Girls' School became one of the largest and most important schools in Auckland province. By 1888 Frances Haselden was the highest-paid female public school teacher in the country, with a salary of £208 per annum (about half that of an equivalent male head-teacher).

The school had problems: staffing was largely dependent on low-paid pupil-teachers, funding was inadequate, and the Auckland Education Board, being distant from Thames, could offer little support to teachers in dealing with criticism from parents, school committees and the general public. On one occasion, in December 1877, when an irate mother not only assaulted Haselden but demanded the intervention of a magistrate, Vicesimus Lush provided her with moral support. The magistrate, however, commended Frances for her treatment of her pupil and fined the woman.

Although the Auckland Education Board covered an extensive area, inspections were regular. One school inspector reported that Kauaeranga girls should be 'awarded the palm' for their aptitude at drill. 'Their quiet and lady-like demeanour, and graceful deportment is owing…to the régime of the Mistress'.

Although Frances Haselden had served over 20 years as a successful headmistress, her appointment was terminated in 1898, apparently on the grounds that the proposed coeducational school required a male head-teacher. With the help of the Teachers' Court of Appeal and the New Zealand Educational Institute she contested the decision, but the hearing was delayed indefinitely. In August 1898 she was offered, and accepted, nomination for a similar post at Morrinsville, but was rejected by the school committee, because they preferred a male. Haselden appears to have had a long retirement in Auckland. Four of her brothers, meanwhile, had achieved prominence in their professions. She did not marry or have any children.

Frances Haselden was tall, erect, and despite a somewhat stern countenance was known to have compassion and understanding. She became blind in later years, but still retained an active interest in a variety of topics. Haselden died in a nursing home in Remuera on 9 July 1936 aged 94. She was a fine educator whose career illustrates the discrimination and difficulties that beset the woman teacher in late nineteeth century New Zealand.