Story: Morrison, Annie Christina

Page 1 - Biography

Morrison, Annie Christina

1870–1953

Headmistress

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

Annie Christina Morrison was born on 27 February 1870 at Onehunga, Auckland, New Zealand. Her parents, Donald Morrison and his wife, Christina Ross, had been Free Church of Scotland missionaries in the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). After four years in the mission, Donald Morrison's ill health obliged the family to move to Auckland, where he died on 23 October 1869.

Annie became a student at the Auckland Girls' High School. This was incorporated into the Auckland College and Grammar School in 1888 when Annie was in the sixth form. Boys and girls at the school were kept apart, meeting only at prize-givings and at sports days when the girls served afternoon tea while the boys competed at athletics. Annie's recreational activities were strictly circumscribed by limited facilities and by contemporary expectations of what was physically appropriate for the nation's future mothers; anything more vigorous than deportment lessons was unacceptable. The girls did have gymnastic lessons, but these were voluntary and held after school.

In 1888 Annie Morrison became the first girl from the old high school to win a university Junior Scholarship. She combined primary school teaching with study at Auckland University College. In 1892 an increase in the roll of the Auckland College and Grammar School had created a need for an additional staff member and Annie returned to her old school as an assistant teacher. She was engaged for 15 hours per week at an annual salary of £72, and was the school's first female teacher to have a university degree. In 1893, when she had completed her MA with honours in mathematics, both her hours and salary were increased, but she still received considerably less than the lowest-paid full-time male teacher.

The female teachers at the school had heavy workloads but were not entrusted with senior classes. In 1901 Annie Morrison broke new ground by becoming the first female form mistress of the girls' fifth form. In 1903, with the introduction of the free place system, the roll began to increase and the need for a separate school for the girls became obvious. After a period in temporary accommodation they moved into a new building in Howe Street. The new Auckland Girls' Grammar School provided more practical work and an active sports and drill programme. In 1913 Annie Morrison became first assistant, and she was acting headmistress from the end of 1915 to March 1917.

The demand for secondary schooling for girls continued to increase, imposing severe strains on existing facilities. When it was decided to open another school in the Epsom area, Annie Morrison was appointed the first headmistress of Epsom Girls' Grammar School. It opened in 1917 with a staff of eight full-time teachers and a roll of 170, housed in temporary wooden buildings designed for the expected roll of 150. Accommodation was always short, and in 1919 three classes spent some months in tents. The development of the sports fields and the provision of adequate furniture were serious problems, but Annie Morrison gave every encouragement to sports, even permitting lessons in self-defence after school.

In spite of the difficulties the school rapidly acquired an enviable reputation. In 1919 inspectors reported excellent work being done and described the staff as capable and enthusiastic. In 1925 a hostel provided accommodation for 20 out-of-town girls. In 1929, when Annie Morrison retired, Epsom Girls' had become the largest secondary girls' school in New Zealand. The roll exceeded 600, the staff had risen to 27, its pupils had won more university scholarships than any other girls' school in the country, and matriculation passes had increased steadily.

Annie Morrison was of slight build, somewhat above medium height with dark hair and a serious demeanour. She was admired for her teaching skills, renowned for her disciplinary powers and remembered for her courtesy and graciousness. On her retirement pupils and staff expressed gratitude for 'her unfailing interest, help and encouragement and for the inspiration of her unflagging enthusiasm and lofty ideals'. The school's swimming pool was later named the Morrison Pool as a memorial to her keen interest in sport and the physical well-being of her pupils.

For more than 60 years Annie Morrison was an active member of St David's Presbyterian Church. From 1932 she was an office holder in the St David's branch of the Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union of New Zealand, serving as treasurer from 1935 to 1941. She researched, and read at branch meetings, descriptions of the work done by early missionaries in the New Hebrides.

Annie Morrison, who had not married, died on 31 August 1953 in Auckland. She had made a significant contribution to the development of girls' secondary education in Auckland.