Story: Sutherland, Olive Rose

Page 1 - Biography

Sutherland, Olive Rose

1894–1984

Teacher

This biography was written by Margaret Christensen and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 5, 2000

Olive Rose Sutherland was born on 6 August 1894 at Masterton. She was the daughter of Rose Julia Clarke and her husband, Robert Sutherland, a labourer who became a printer’s machinist for the Wairarapa Daily Times. Olive was educated in Masterton and at Wellington Girls’ College. In 1911 she began two years’ probationary teaching at Lansdowne School, Masterton. While at Wellington Teachers’ Training College in 1913–14 she studied at Victoria University College for a BA, then began an MA in English and history, which she completed, while teaching full time, in 1917.

Her first certificated position was at Fernridge School, west of Masterton, in 1915, but she soon transferred to Masterton District High School, where she had charge of a class of 80 primary pupils. She also taught in the school’s secondary department. In 1923 she joined the foundation staff of Wairarapa High School.

Novelist and educationalist Sylvia Ashton-Warner, a pupil at both high schools, described Sutherland (whom she renamed Miss Cumberland) in her autobiography, I passed this way. ‘Miss Cumberland was an interesting teacher because she was an interesting woman in her own right. She was interesting because she was interested and actually liked her work and it showed … Along with a trim mind was a trim figure, I think, beneath the academic gown. A no-nonsense, I-know-where-I’m-going walk as her gown swung with it. I remember the firm clicking of her heels along scholastic corridors so that you knew when she was coming … She neither ridiculed nor exploited me but saw to it that I knew her exactly as she was’.

Sutherland became head of English and history and senior mistress when Wairarapa College was established in 1938. As well as being an inspirational teacher, she moulded the manners and deportment of boys as well as girls and stressed the importance of character development. Known affectionately by her pupils as ‘Suds’, she was encouraging and sympathetic, and liked the naughty pupils provided they were witty, but was a firm disciplinarian. She was also well-informed on world affairs, liberal and, on occasion, unconventional. She would not participate in school Anzac Day ceremonies, but whether this was because she was a pacifist or because she had lost a special friend in the First World War was not resolved. She never married.

Olive Sutherland was active in debating, drama and musical productions, library administration, music and outdoor basketball, interests she pursued outside school hours. She was president of the Wairarapa Basketball Association for 12 years, and the Sutherland Rosebowl is competed for annually among lower North Island teams. In 1938 she became the first life member of the association for her services as administrator and coach. She also belonged to dramatic societies in both Wellington and Wairarapa. A very good, powerful pianist, she introduced the practice of asking pupils to play piano works at morning assembly and then giving the whole school a brief lecture on the composer. She permitted the staff to escape.

Retiring from Wairarapa College at the end of 1957, Sutherland began teaching at St Matthew’s Collegiate School for Girls, an Anglican school, in 1958. She spent nearly 15 years there and pioneered the joint senior department in English and history with the nearby boys’ school, Rathkeale College. She was always encouraging to less-experienced teachers and was a fighter for women’s equality in education. Possessed of a large wardrobe, she was, at nearly 80, the first staff member to wear the newly fashionable knee-high boots.

Olive Sutherland retired from full-time teaching in 1973 but continued to coach local students for Victoria University English examinations and secondary students for Latin, a subject whose loss from the curriculum she much regretted. She continued to live alone in the house where she had been brought up, and tended an extensive cottage garden beside the original stables. Olive Sutherland died on 27 September 1984 at Masterton, aged 90. The Wairarapa College library, commissioned in 1974, is named in her honour. It contains an oil portrait of her by former student Enid Cross.