Please enable JS

The Māori University Experience, World War II

43863 max
Maori Home Front Blog Avatar
Zoe Thomas
19 March, 2021

The focus for my research project was Māori in tertiary education during World War II. Going into the research my expectations were that the cohort of students studying at university would be male, most likely studying medicine at Otago, with a straightforward course of study and entry to university. I also expected the students to study full-time, without an option of part-time study. Māori students moved great distances from their families to study at university and this influenced my expectation that these students would be more isolated than most others. However, my assumptions were challenged by the experiences of the students I encountered in my research.

Jacqueline Sturm’s story showed me that the odds were stacked against her, as a Māori woman with academic aspirations. Despite the discrimination and challenges, she excelled in school, and was awarded a scholarship to study at university. Her academic career was not straightforward, as she began by studying medical intermediate at Otago University. Upon not being accepted into medicine, she changed her location of study to Canterbury University College in Christchurch and her course of study to a Bachelor of Arts (BA). I found this unexpected as I didn’t think students were likely to change either their course or the college where they were studying. Jacquie also stood out to me as she is thought to be the first woman to complete a postgraduate qualification, which she achieved whilst balancing her personal life with her husband and children.

Maharaia Winiata’s story revealed the many contributions he gave to the Māori community, the passion he had for education, and the numerous different commitments he balanced. Like Jacquie, Maharaia was also awarded a scholarship to attend university, but he studied part-time and completed his BA at the same time as working as a teacher at several secondary schools. Remaining passionate about Māori education throughout his life Maharaia was an advocate for this area, as well as being involved in many other groups and activities. One of which was the Home Guard during World War II. Despite a relatively short life, Maharaia was an active leader in the Māori community and accomplished a great deal, in politics, religion, scholarship and education. Part of his legacy was the posthumous publishing of his doctoral thesis, The Changing Role of the Leader in Māori Society in 1967, and a scholarship in his name awarded to an outstanding Māori scholar at the University of Auckland.

Leonard William Broughton’s story expanded my knowledge of the experiences of Māori students during their time at university. This story came the most alive for me, thanks to his son, John Broughton, who kindly made time to speak with me about his father’s time at the University of Otago. Before encountering Leonard’s story, I expected Māori at university to be isolated from their communities due to moving away from their homes and families, but this story showed me otherwise. Leonard and Henry Bennett grew up on the same pā, and went to school together, before they both attended Otago to study medicine. Leonard and Henry were such close friends they co-wrote their fifth-year preventive medicine dissertation together. Leonard challenged another expectation, as his entry into university was not straightforward, and he ended up at Otago halfway through the year and had to catch up on what he had missed in the first term. Both Leonard and Henry had cadet training in school, and were involved in the Otago University Medical Company during World War II and later.

These stories highlight the experiences of three exceptional Māori scholars, and the influence of university in their lives.

Finally, it is worth noting that histories or analysis of the Māori experience of tertiary education during World War II is limited, compared to other aspects of Māori educational history, and so this is a topic worth investigating further. Doing so will help us better understand the enormous challenges Māori have faced to enter university since the first wave of Māori graduates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Jacqui, Maharaia and Leonard continued the pioneering path of Apirana Ngata, Te Rangi Hīroa, Maui Pōmare, Hāmiora Hei, Tūtere Wī Repa and others. We need more stories like theirs to fill out our understanding of Māori educational experiences across the twentieth century.


Image: Anatomy lecture, Otago Medical School, 1949. Ref: 1105_01_030A, Hocken Collections. 

Get In Touch