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“The Dio Difference”: Social Class and Anglican Girls’ Secondary Schools in Aotearoa New Zealand, 1877-1975

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posted on 18.06.2021, 02:25 by Swanson, Bethany

This study examines the histories of Anglican girls’ secondary schools from 1877-1975, placing them within a social class setting. This thesis argues that these schools, despite the diversity of their location and the dates of their founding, existed largely to educate the daughters of Aotearoa New Zealand’s ruling class. The ruling class can be defined as an active class made up of social elites, who were influential in society and possessed economic, social and cultural capital. This capital appears in the form of the ability to set an agenda in civic society, as membership in networks, and as the possession of a formal education. The Anglican girls’ private schools were a means through which this class replicated itself. The Anglican church possessed many such influential members of society and was driven, on a diocesan level, to establish private schools for girls in defence of a curriculum which included religious education.

The schools in this study were all founded between 1878 and 1918 and remain in existence today. Over their lifetimes they have remained exclusively girls’ schools, with a mix of day-students and boarders. The thesis uses data collected from school archives, libraries, and school histories as well as a wider literature on education and class theory in order to situate the schools firmly within a class analysis. The thesis makes particular use of admissions registers to analyse the demographic of students attending the schools, situating students within their geographical catchments. Further, admissions registers have been used to determine the social status of parental occupation of students and their relative social class position. Each of the schools engaged in discourses surrounding the purpose of an education for girls. Schools strived to offer students both an academic and a social education. These two goals often existed in tension. The schools grappled with the aim of educating their students to be young Anglican women of good character who were able to fulfil their roles as future wives and mothers in affluent households, whilst also offering an academic curriculum which promised rigour for those most able. As the role of women in the workplace and wider society evolved, so too did the pedagogy of the schools both in terms of curriculum and in the conveyance of symbolic capital through membership in elite ruling class networks. Throughout the time period under examination, 1877-1975, the schools consistently offered an alternative to state schools, an alternative that described the ‘difference’ that private schooling could offer. That ‘difference’, this thesis suggests, was one that signified superiority, locating the schools within the upper ranks of social class hierarchy in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Advisor 1

Macdonald, Charlotte

Advisor 2

McAloon, Jim

Copyright Date


Date of Award



Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations