During the Second World War, many young Māori moved to cities from largely rural areas to work in essential industries. As more people migrated to the city for employment, the pressure on accommodation increased. Wartime labour requirements facilitated an acceleration of hostel-building focused on providing accommodation for young Māori men and women. In Auckland circles this was dubbed a “Maori Hostel Movement”.
Urban hostels for Māori were not new. A number of cities and towns had established hostels in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but these were limited to Māori visiting on a temporary basis. Churches were involved in hostel-building too. Prior to the war, church leaders worried about young Māori women coming to Auckland to take up domestic work, and who were ‘not attending religious services’ and instead ‘hanging about the street with nowhere to go’.
Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, many young Māori women shifted away from domestic service and took up essential war work in factories. Sister Jessie Alexander, who in 1944 gave a ‘stirring address’ at Papatoetoe regarding the ‘terrible conditions’ faced by Māori girls living in Auckland city, had long been associated with the work of the Māori Mission of the Presbyterian Church. She had retired from the Mission in 1936, and moved to Auckland where she took a leading role in the hostel movement.
Sister Jessie sought a suitable place to provide ‘A home for our Māori girls’. She started with hosting a ‘free tea’ at the meeting rooms of the Christian Alliance of Women and Girls. Invitation cards were printed in Māori, and the teas enabled the girls to engage in social interaction in the city, and to form friendships with others. These gatherings were the first step in establishing a hostel for Māori girls, as was the use of Sister Jessie’s house as a ‘rendezvous for lonely girls’ who were tired or in need of sympathy or advice.
Sister Jessie explored several options. As she was also District Superintendent of the Maori Work Department of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) she took the opportunity to address WCTU meetings about her cause in the early 1940s. She spoke in Papatoetoe about her proposal which was meet favourably by those present. WCTU President, Mrs J. Long, presented the idea to the Auckland District Executive, which formally began the process to establish the hostels. There was no shortage of enthusiasm for the idea and those involved set about fundraising and ‘house-hunting’ for suitable properties.
In the war years concerns about how young Māori would deal with the ‘culture shock’, as well as racism and discrimination in finding suitable accommodation attracted a great deal of concern from Māori leaders. Several Auckland-based Māori women formed the United Maori Women’s Welfare Society Incorporated in 1943. They took immediate action: drafting and submitting a scheme to the Auckland Māori Tribal Committee for the establishment of hostels for Māori girls in ‘industrial areas’. This initiative was led by Matire Hoeft, President of the Society. She was particularly concerned about the nearly 700 young Māori women who had moved to the city, of whom the vast majority were working in essential industries, or were training to be teachers and nurses. Mrs Hoeft and others were concerned about their ability to ‘cope with the unusual situation created by the war’. Treasurer of the Society, Waima Davis, felt that Māori girls were more vulnerable in cities as they had difficulty in finding ‘suitable lodgings and decent home surroundings.’
Initially, it was thought that the hostels could be modelled on Pakeha hostels; however, the tribal committee objected to the proposal as plans were afoot for a Māori community centre. Undeterred, the group addressed the executive of the WCTU who provided a financial donation towards the project. The UMWWS became active in the Māori Hostel Movement: several members joined the Auckland District Union of the WCTU and three became members of the WCTU’s Māori Hostel Committee. Whilst we do not know exactly what happened to the United Māori Women’s Welfare Society, it is possible that it was dissolved after the war and its members moved into other groups.
Another organisation involved in the hostel movement was the inter-denominational Auckland United Māori Mission (UMM), established in the early war years, which later became the United Māori Mission. Sister Jessie was a member of the UMM Executive. The UMM’s first hostel was opened in 1943 on Union Street, as both a ‘Mission House and hostel’. Twelve girls were soon living at the property, many of whom were students of the Bible Training Institute and were acting as ‘resident assistants’.
By this time, the WCTU had collected enough funds to purchase a property themselves, with the government providing a loan to make up the difference. An eleven-room house in Parnell was subsequently purchased as a hostel for Māori girls. It was officially opened on 11 December 1943 and twenty-two girls were soon in residence. Six of the girls were students at the Epsom Training Institute and several were employed in factories. The hostel could comfortably accommodate up to twenty girls and was non-denominational. Residents got three meals a day, though they had to pay to lodge there, and a young Māori woman worked as both the matron and the cook. At war’s end, the hostel in Parnell had provided a home for 150 Māori girls in the two years that it had been open.
By mid-1944, several hostels for Māori girls had been established: a Hepburn Street hostel in Ponsonby was leased by the United Maori Mission; the Cleveland Road hostel in Parnell was administered by the WCTU, and a hostel in Wellesley Street West was administered by the Auckland Council of Christian Women. In 1945, the Presbyterian Church opened a hostel in Pentland Avenue, Mt Eden, for students, school trainees, and workers. The Native Department gave ‘possession of a house’ to the UMM in Gillies Avenue to establish a hostel for Māori boys. The WCTU’s Maori Hostel Committee was actively engaged in trying to raise funds to purchase further properties. In 1947, a further hostel was opened in Shelley Beach for 25 girls. All of these hostels were promoted as ‘Christian homes’ where residents were cared for ‘physically, mentally and spiritually’.
Other groups were also involved in providing hostels and overseeing their administration. These were often government collaborations led by churches or welfare organisations such as the Auckland Council of Christian Women, and the Presbyterian Church. Consequently, the hostels for young Māori became something of a collaborative effort in many respects as more organisations became involved over time.
Image: A group photograph of girls from the Maori Girls' Hostel, Auckland, including a large number of friends who gathered there for services & social gatherings. Sister Jessie Alexander is sitting in the centre of the second row. ID: 21837 P-A21.61-171, Presbyterian Research Centre. https://prc.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/6557
 “A Paper for Maori Day: The Maori Hostel Movement”, White Ribbon, Vol. 17, no. 8, 18 September 1945.
 “A Paper for Maori Day”; James Veitch, “Alexander, Jessie”, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, accessed 13 August 2020, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4a7/alexander-jessie.
 All quotes from “A Paper for Maori Day”.
 “A Paper for Maori Day”.
 “Hostels for Maori Girls: Great work done by Maori Women’s Committee”, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, Vol. 11, no. 4, 9 December 1943, p. 7.
 All quotes and information from “Hostels for Maori Girls”, p. 7.
 “Hostels for Maori Girls”, p. 38.
 “Hostels for Maori Girls”, p. 38.
 “Auckland District Union: Maori Girls’ Hostel”, White Ribbon, Vol. 50, no. 1, 1 January 1944.
 “A Paper for Maori Day”.
 All information in this paragraph is from “A Paper for Maori Day”, and “Maori Hostel Work for Girls”, Auckland Star, 25 September 1945.
 Jessie Alexander, “A Survey of Maori Work in Auckland”, White Ribbon, Vol. 22, no. 9, 1 October 1950.
 “A Survey of Maori Work”.