Non Scholae Sed Vitae Discimus, not for school but for life we are learning.
– School Motto
Invercargill Girls’ High School opened in Ramsay’s Hall, Tay Street on 10 February 1879 under the principalship of Miss E M Hood and with 30 pupils.
Leading Invercargill citizens had been encouraged by the perseverance and success of Miss L N Dalrymple in founding Otago Girls’ High School in 1872. With this example and with the assistance of Sir John Richardson (Speaker of the Provincial Council and MP for Clutha), they had decided their own city should have a girls’ school.
In its history the School has known four homes.
In the early 1880s the School moved from Ramsay’s Hall to a site on the corner of Forth and Conon Streets and to a building shared with the newly created Boys’ High School.
Board minutes at this time show a continuing concern about the proximity of the sexes. The high wooden fence which separated the two groups eventually became a brick wall. Another solution, no longer possible today, was for the Principal of the time to take those girls who lunched at school home with her during lunch hours. The minutes provide no evidence as to whether such an arrangement was protection for the girls or the boys!
The new century saw the very independent-minded, determined Principal of the day, Miss Elizabeth Stevenson, fighting not only for a new and separate school building for the girls but also for independent administration of the Girls’ School. As a result of her persistence the “Lady Principal” regained the leadership role of the Girls’ School in 1905.
Despite this success, senior girls were still expected to attend classes at the Boys’ School. To this day it is of some satisfaction that in 1904 the name of Alice May Palmer graced the Dux board of Southland Boys’ High School.
During Miss Stevenson’s time, construction began on a substantial building on the corner of Forth and Ness Streets. In 1907, with Miss Christina Cruickshank as Principal, the School moved into its third home.
The last move came in 1948 when in the Great Trek, the School shifted to its present home in Tweed Street. Former pupils still vividly recall the move. One class was given responsibility for shifting the Library. Each pupil was allotted a shelf of books to transport on her bicycle and re-shelve at the new school. Others remember how gingerly the carload of science chemicals was driven across the railway lines.
The Southland nature of the Girls’ High School is probably best reflected in the persistent efforts, from the beginning of the century, to establish a boarding hostel. Success came only in 1929 with the opening of the Waimarie Hostel in Crinan Street.
The naming of the Hostel’s four dormitories gives a delightful insight in Hostel life – Punewhare (sleeping house), Tuirata (honouring the nearby native bush and birds), Wakaroa (a mixture of Wakatipu and Titiroa, the boarders’ home territories) and Elclomaudo (the first four syllables of the four original inhabitants – Elsie, Clove, Maud and Dorothea).
1929 was hardly an auspicious year to open a hostel, and after a failed attempt in 1931 to include Boys’ High pupils amongst the boarders, the Hostel closed its doors. It reopened as Rata House in 1947, readopted the original estate name of Enwood in 1956, and has weathered periods of economic depression and the opening of country schools in the decades since.
Through twelve decades and under a succession of Principals, women of vision and strength of will, the School has developed. Motivated by an abiding concern for the education of girls, the curriculum has been expanded to include a wide variety of subjects, cultural and sporting activities. Areas such as outdoor education, technology, guidance and careers advice have been developed to cater for contemporary needs.
The decades have seen much change. The first pupils with slate and pencil would be amazed by our computer age. Those whose exercise consisted of a brisk walk to the cemetery every morning reading Shakespeare as they went would probably be astounded by today’s range of sports. The girls who brought hot potatoes in the pockets to school as a means of keeping warm would find the climate just as inclement but the heating systems greatly improved.
A school like Southland Girls’ High School with a long history also has strong traditions. Like the community of which it is a part, the School has suffered and played its role in two World Wars, through the Great Influenza epidemic and the later polio outbreak.
Choose any year and you will find tradition growing. In 1913 for example the school uniform was introduced. In the same year Katherine Neil, a pupil, designed the School badge with its motto and rata blossoms. And it was in 1913 that two staff members, Miss Violet Cheyne-Farnie and Mr Charles Gray, composed the words and music for the School Song.
In August 2003, the then Education Minister Trevor Mallard, announced there would be a review (rationalization) of Invercargill schools. This was followed by 12 months of consultation and mediation. Even as early as November 2003 it was clear that the Ministry of Education had a preference for Year 7-13 schools as opposed to Intermediate (Year 7-8) and High schools (Year 9-13).
So the final outcome in June 2004 was not a surprise and Southland Girls’ High school became the first state girls school Year 7-13 commencing in January 2005.
With the closure of the Tweedsmuir Junior High, our neighbouring school, we acquired their site. After an influx of over 550 new girls in 2005, the roll stood SGHS now stood at 1200. The newly acquired TJHS, site affectionately known as East Wing, has only just accommodated our increased numbers and has had to have a huge makeover before occupation. New teachers were employed and thus began a series of building projects including a new staffroom and canteen on the East wing site, and a foods, materials, 3 science rooms and a much needed second gymnasium on the West wing site. The two wings very much reflect our learning community’s philosophy of integrated and inclusiveness with all girls Years 7-13 spread over both sites.
History is a living thing. We are still making it. Woven through all the changing decades is the strong thread of the School motto given to us in the first decade – Non Scholae Sed Vitae Discimus, not for school but for life we are learning – a motto as relevant today as it was all those years ago.
Southland Girls’ High School is well-known in both New Zealand and overseas for the iconic red shoes our students wear as part of the school uniform.
Red shoes were introduced by the Principal at the time, Miss Muriel May, immediately after World War II. One perspective of the process was that the then new navy uniform with white spots was considered drab and, in an effort, to persuade the girls to wear it, Miss May suggested that girls might be allowed to accessorise it with red shoes.
However, recently Mrs Margaret Cook (nee Bensley 1952-1955) has written to inform us how she remembers the red shoes became a piece of our uniform. “My very clear memory tells me that Miss May announced that we were going to be able to wear a red belt with our spotted dress and red gloves. I well remember pupil Jill McKay then standing up to ask a question. Now this was a quite unprecedented action – no-one stood in Assembly unless invited or ordered so to do. There was a collective gasp and a collective holding of breath while Jill said, “Please Miss May can we wear red shoes”? Miss May shrugged her shoulders as she was wont to do and said that she would consider the idea. Next assembly she announced that red shoes were an option we could choose”. By 1954 the red shoes were ‘uniform’.
The SGHS red shoes have since then been a great conversation piece.
In 1999 Elspeth McLean wrote an article for the Otago Daily Times about her desire for red shoes and her various attempts to buy them. Finding it hard to acquire a pair, Elspeth wrote about how a friend of hers remembered seeing Southland Girls’ High School students on a tour of Cadburys and how they wore red shoes. This in turn led Elspeth to H & J Smith and finally she was able to purchase the much sought-after red shoes.
Elspeth described feeling ‘deliciously subversive’ to be wearing part of a school uniform when she didn’t have to. A comment from a friend across the road one day ‘love those shoes’ led Elspeth to wonder “if sensible grown women were effected in such a way (to call out across a road), what might the red shoes be doing to these impressionable Southland Girls”? “Were red shoes helping them to become stroppy, outspoken, challengers of authority who are not afraid to stand out in a crowd”?
Lind Braun, (Principal 1986-2002) couldn’t resist replying to the question posed by Elspeth McLean under the headline “Red Lace-Ups Build Schoolgirls’ Character”. Mrs Braun said, “These gorgeous shoes, hated and loved by schoolgirls since the 1950s, for just the reason your columnist suspects. We encourage our girls to stand out, speak up and make their mark. We like uppity women. A leaver once told me that five years of wearing bright red shoes had prepared her to face anything. So, your shoes are not only beautiful and distinctive, Ms McLean, they are also character building. And at Southland Girls’ High School, character is even more important than the colour of our shoes”.
Our red shoes certainly do ensure our students continue to stand out some 60 years after their introduction. We continue to wear our unique red shoes with pride, certain that we do indeed stand out in the crowd.