Remembering Helen Macmillan Brown. (2018)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameBachelor of Arts (Hons)
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
This research paper examines the life and memory of Helen Macmillan Brown (née Connon). Helen was the first woman in the British Empire to earn a master’s degree in 1881 as an early graduate of Canterbury College. She was also principal of Christchurch Girls’ High School for over a decade. Helen’s sudden death in 1903 prompted an outpouring of memorialisation from a wide variety of sources, including newspaper obituaries, physical sites such as Helen Connon Hall, busts and plaques, published family memoirs, and biographies. The key works on Helen’s life are Edith Searle-Grossmann’s feminist biography Life of Helen Macmillan Brown, published in 1905, followed by Easily the Best: The Life of Helen Connon 1857-1903 by historian Margaret Lovell-Smith. Different public, personal, and biographic modes of remembrance – explored in the first three chapters – illuminate the most significant aspect of the popular narrative of Helen’s life: her pioneering roles in women’s education. The final chapter uses Helen’s photography in an attempt to locate the real Helen beneath all of this memory. Her photography has largely been ignored in scholarship despite being one of the very few extant sources of her own voice. This analysis shows how different modes of public and private remembrance interact to emphasise Helen’s contribution to women’s education, while obscuring Helen’s personal life and role as mother and wife.
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