First woman at Massey dies

Last updated 12:04 14/06/2012
Enid Hills
TRAILBLAZER: Enid Hills.

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Massey University's first lady died this week, aged 99.

Enid Hills was the first woman to attend Massey University and the first to gain a qualification there.

She died in Palmerston North on Tuesday.

As Enid Christian, she enrolled at Massey in 1932 as an 18-year-old, graduating from what was then Massey Agricultural College in 1933 with a Certificate in Poultry Farming.

Though soon joined by two other women at Massey, she later joked they were outnumbered 50 to one by men and she always had plenty of girlfriends eager for invitations to the student dances.

Massey Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey yesterday paid tribute to Mrs Hills, who went on to be a poultry farmer, a journalist and mother of four.

She stayed in touch with the university throughout her life, Mr Maharey said.

"She was well-known to staff and students past and present and certainly enjoyed her ongoing association with Massey and her special place as the first woman to complete a qualification."

In a Massey News article on Hills seven years ago, Leanne Hills said her grandmother was a feminist 40 years before the tag became commonplace.

When she entered Massey on her first day in January 1932 the students had made a guard of honour out of farm implements to mark her arrival.

"My friend Jeff told me to go in the back way," she laughed, and so Massey's first female student entered by the back door.

"On my first day in class, the men all stood up when I entered the room there was always plenty of good humour to go around."

At the time, Massey had 191 students.

At the end of the 48-week course, Massey found her a job managing a poultry farm at Whenuapai, north of Auckland. "It was the heart of the Depression. I was 19 years old, a slip of a girl wearing jodhpurs and brogues," she said.

She arrived in a poor rural community which viewed college diplomas with scepticism, she said.

Soon after she arrived the power got cut off so she wound up hand-milking for the neighbours, who had 200 cows.

She was regarded as a great stripper, she said, swiftly pointing out that in the 1930s a stripper was someone good at getting the last drops of milk from the udder.

As a poultry farmer, her hens twice won prizes at the Papanui National Egg Laying Competition, then she returned to Palmerston North, working as a journalist for the Manawatu Times, and raising a family.

The first woman to graduate from Massey with a degree was Paddy Basset; her BAgrSc bestowed in 1941.

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