The Waikato Graduate Women Educational Trust

Our History

The very beginnings

The Waikato Graduate Women Educational Trust, Ngā Raukura Wāhine Mātauranga o Waikato, had its origins in 1927, when the Waikato Branch of the New Zealand Federation on University Women was formed.

The international body, the International Federation of University Women, “was founded just after World War I by women graduates who believed in the importance of educated women working together for peace, international understanding and friendship” (GWNZ website).

New Zealand’s Federation of University Women (now known as Graduate Women New Zealand) was formally accepted as part of the international body in 1922, although Auckland and Otago Branches were founded as early as 1920. The Waikato Branch was initiated in 1927 by Mrs Zell Ziman. Other members included Miss Elizabeth Barrowclough (later Mrs E A Bisley, after whom the branch’s Elizabeth Bisley Prize in English is named), and Miss Alice Bourke (later Mrs Grant). By around 1934 the branch appears to have gone into recess, possibly as a result of many of the original members moving away. It was not to re-establish itself until 1955. This revival is attributed to the enthusiasm of Mrs Lynn Woodhams. Elizabeth Bisley was its first president.

Waikato Branch activities

The branch was involved in public affairs, for example, making submissions to Parliamentary Select Committees, and had strong links with the National Council of Women. It was active in the processes that led to the founding of the University of Waikato in 1964, particularly in the areas of student accommodation and welfare, including fundraising to build halls of residence. This concern for student welfare continued throughout the early years of the branch, with support provided for students living away from home, which included home hosting overseas students who were at the University as part of the south-east Asian Columbo plan.

Other areas of work included international refugee relief and resettlement, prisoners’ aid and rehabilitation, support for the work of CORSO (the Council of Organisations for Relief Services Overseas), and of particular note, the adoption of Whatawhata School, after an address to the Branch by the Head Teacher, Mr “Sidney” Hirini Mead (later Professor Sir Hirini Moko Mead) on Some Aspects in the Education of the Māori child.

Across the period from 1961 to 2014 the Branch’s areas of work were many and varied. These included legislation relating to the health, welfare and education of women and children; establishing the creche at the University of Waikato; support for the teaching of te reo Māori, setting up a student loan fund; sex role stereotyping in public advertising; concern about nuclear energy and disarmament; support for Pasifika students; open government in New Zealand; and improvements to public transport, toilet facilities, service access and better river vistas in Hamilton.

Hiring regalia starts

In 1959 hiring regalia for graduations and other professional and ceremonial occasions became a significant aspect of the branch’s work. A committee was formed to sew academic hoods and hire regalia. Members’ work was entirely voluntary, and the profits were used to support women students through grants and awards – a practice which continues to this day. In 1961 the Elizabeth Bisley Memorial Prize in English was the Branch’s first award to be established.

A change of focus

In the 1990s community involvement lessened and was increasingly replaced by financial assistance to other organisations such as the Campus Crèche, the Community Law Centre, Women’s Refuges, Women’s Book Festivals and various social support services.

A strong theme remained throughout all the Branch’s work – the promotion of women to office, whether it be by appointment or election.

In the late 1989 a Charitable Trust was established, administered by Federation members, and by the mid 1990s two part time employees were appointed, as the workload had become too great for volunteers.

Winding up of Waikato Branch

At the 2014 annual general meeting, due to many members being in full-time employment and a diminishing pool of women available to take on leadership roles on a branch committee, it was decided that the Branch be wound up, with the proviso that the 60th anniversary of the Branch’s formation be celebrated in June 2015.

A change of name

The change of name from Federation of University Women to Graduate Women came about in 2003, in recognition that tertiary level study could now be undertaken at a range of institutions.


Today the Trust is an independent body that administers a sizable business.  However, its mission has not changed.  It is committed to helping women further their education by providing scholarships and awards open to women students in tertiary institutions across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions, funded by money raised through the hire of regalia for graduations in those institutions, and to secondary school staff members for their prize-giving ceremonies.


Graduate Women NZ website

Lane, Sue (2002). A history of the Waikato Branch, Federation of University Women 1955-2000. (Unpublished research exercise). Massey University, Palmerston North NZ.

Mitchell, Noreen (date unknown). The history of Waikato Branch (Inc.) 1927-34 1955-81 New Zealand Federation of University Women. Unpublished manuscript.