Kate Edger

Kate Evans notice

So Kate Evans advertised her school in the Evening Post on January 28th, 1895. One thing which is instantly noticeable is the letters M.A. after Mrs Evans’ name in the advertisement. Pupils at this school would be learning from an exceptional woman. Kate Edger, as she was before she married Reverend W.A. Evans, was the first woman in New Zealand to gain a university degree and the first in the British Empire to earn a Bachelor of Arts. In 1877, she graduated with a B.A. in Latin and Mathematics. When she applied for permission to sit for a mathematical scholarship for the University of New Zealand, she mentioned her age and qualifications but not her gender and was accepted.

After graduating, she became first assistant at Christchurch Girls’ High School and began study at Canterbury College for her M.A. Then, at the age of 26, she was appointed first principal of Nelson College for Girls.

Kate Edger, 1857-1935 Photograph: Nelson College for Girls

Kate Edger, 1857-1935
Photograph: Nelson College for Girls

On her 33rd birthday, Kate married a Welsh Congregational minister, William Evans. The couple clearly had a love of mathematics in common because the Freelance in 1904 described William as the “mathematical Mr W A Evans”. Kate intended to continue working after her marriage but in fact resigned two months later, probably because she was pregnant.

The move to Wellington for the Evans’s came in 1893, when William took on the work of establishing the Forward Movement in Wellington. This was a non-sectarian Christian movement which aimed to make religion attractive to the masses and combined adult education with charitable work. It was not paid work, however, and Kate became the breadwinner.

As we can see from the advertisement above, they lived in Taranaki Street when they first arrived in the city, but in 1894 they bought the property which is now 49 Porritt Avenue – in Kate’s name. It is impossible to know now whether Kate bought the property because she did, indeed, provide the finance or whether this was a precaution because her husband had no income. They can’t have been too stretched financially, however – in 1896 William bought two sections of the newly-subdivided Victoria Block just along the road in Ellice Avenue. The Evans’s called their new home Dehra Dhoon.
As well as teaching, Kate helped her husband in his work for the Forward Movement, including giving public addresses. The regular lectures and talks by the Forward Movement included topics such as “The Growth of Socialism” one Saturday night, and “The Christian as Citizen”. Reverend Evans also taught adult evening classes and worked with the New Zealand Workers’ Union to improve conditions for the unemployed in the late 1890’s as part of the mission of the Movement.

In 1900, William was elected to Wellington City Council for Cook Ward and was a councillor until 1905.

Councillor Evans, fourth from left in 1900 – outside the Adelaide Rd tram barns on municipalisation  of  tramways.  Wellington City Archives 00138:0:8703

Councillor Evans, fourth from left in 1900 – outside the Adelaide Rd tram barns on municipalisation of tramways.
Wellington City Archives 00138:0:8703

In 1904, however, in addition to Kate’s classes William was taking students at the Ellice Avenue home, too. The advertisement in January of that year reads:

Classes will be held next year by the Rev. W.A. Evans in Mental Science, to prepare Students for the University Examinations. Mrs. Evans’s Morning Class for Girls will re-open on THURSDAY, 11th Feb. Evening Classes as usual for Civil Service and University Examinations.

In 1904 William was also appointed in charge of the Newtown Congregational Church, so financially things were probably looking up. Kate continued teaching, though, and when they sold the house and moved to Hiropi Street in 1906 her classes transferred there.

Source: Dictionary of New Zealand Biography www.dnzb.govt.nz