Story: Hanan, Susanna

Page 1 - Biography

Hanan, Susanna

1870–1970

Governess, singer, community worker

This biography was written by Maureen Hickey and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Susanna Murray was born at Wallacetown, near Invercargill, New Zealand, on 1 July 1870, the daughter of Louisa Boddy and her husband, John Murray, a dairyman. In 1876 John Murray sold the family farm and joined the goldrush in Queensland, Australia, apparently leaving his wife and children in New Zealand. On his return two years later the Murray family set up residence in Invercargill, where Susanna attended school. She became a pupil-teacher and eventually found work as a governess.

In the late 1880s Susanna Murray took a position as governess to the family of C. E. Tribe, a bank manager of Invercargill. She enjoyed working there and when the family moved to Hobart, Susanna, then 18 years old, moved with them. She missed her own family, however, and returned to Invercargill after two years.

Susanna Murray continued to work as a governess in Invercargill throughout the 1890s. She also pursued her interest in music, earning a reputation in Southland as a talented soprano and pianist. In 1901 she sang at the Invercargill coronation celebrations for Edward VII. The organising committee for the celebrations included her future husband, the young barrister, solicitor and MHR Josiah Alfred Hanan. They married on 12 June 1902 at Invercargill and were to have two sons.

Now 31 years old, Susanna Hanan had the maturity to deal with the rigours of public life and settled into her new role with ease. Her marriage and resultant rise in social status gave her the time and resources to become involved in community work, an opportunity she took very seriously. A slight, dynamic figure with dark brown hair and brilliant blue eyes, she was strong-minded, extroverted but level-headed, and a confident public speaker. Although many of her public interests such as prohibition and education were shared with her husband, she developed her own sphere of interest and public identity.

While her children were still young, Susanna Hanan became involved in the newly emerging infant welfare movement. In 1910 she was a founding member of the Invercargill branch of the Society for the Health of Women and Children (the Plunket Society), and over the next 15 years was actively involved in fund-raising for the society. At various times she served as treasurer and vice president for the Invercargill branch. The Hanan family usually commuted to Wellington for the parliamentary session and Susanna was also a member of the Wellington branch of the Plunket Society. Later, she served on the Central Council.

A concern about the lack of early educational opportunities for children prompted Susanna Hanan to turn her attention to the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union in 1912. She worked to secure government subsidies for kindergartens and was the first secretary and treasurer. She maintained a lifelong interest in the free kindergarten movement and was honoured with a life membership of the union.

During the First World War Susanna Hanan helped set up the Southland branch of the British Red Cross Society and she was secretary-treasurer of the Women's National Reserve of New Zealand in Wellington. With both of her sons boarding in Wellington for their secondary education Susanna had the time to develop a variety of interests. She served as vice president of the Women's Literary Society, the Southland Shakespeare Club and the Southland Women's Club.

In February 1924 Susanna Hanan was appointed by the Southland Education Board to the Southland Boys' and Girls' High Schools Board, becoming the first woman to hold the position. She fulfilled her duties well, showing an interest in both the pupils and the staff and 'by her sympathy and foresight did much for the school'. She resigned in August 1925 but maintained her connection with the school as patroness and life member of the Southland High School Old Girls' Association.

In 1925 the Hanans moved to Dunedin, where both of their sons now attended the University of Otago. Here Susanna continued her association with the kindergarten movement and the Plunket Society and also became involved in the Dunedin Orchestral Society's struggle to establish itself. In 1937 the Hanans represented New Zealand at the coronation of George VI. They met many famous figures and Susanna was presented to the new King.

Susanna Hanan remained a vibrant figure in her old age, keeping up a strong interest in her community. She maintained that 'women should be interested in matters of public importance', as she herself had been. Her husband, Josiah, died on 22 March 1954 and she died at the age of 99 in Dunedin on 12 February 1970, survived by one son.