"Striving after better things" : Julia Wilding and the making of a new woman and a noble gentleman.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis is a study of the family of Julia and Frederick Wilding. The focus is primarily upon the role of the mother and the lives of the first two surviving children, Gladys (1881-1905) and Anthony (1883-1915) It draws heavily upon the voluminous testimony of Julia. Born in Hereford in 1853, to Charles and Ann Deyke Anthony, a middle-class couple of some substance, she came to New Zealand in 1879 immediately after her marriage to Frederick Wilding, a young lawyer beginning to make his way in Hereford. An educated and cultured woman, she was well versed in the educational theories of her day. Before leaving for New Zealand she had proclaimed, in a series of newspaper articles, her belief that the family held the key to social progress. It was here that new attitudes could be forged and human beings given the best opportunity of fulfilling their potential. She was especially hopeful that the energetic and involved mother might, within the family, promote the cause of women by preparing her daughters so that they could take their place alongside men in the world of affairs. It was with this lofty goal in view, that she and Frederick established themselves in Christchurch in 1879. Julia's attempt to realise these ambitious ends throws considerable light upon the life of an upper middle-class woman in late colonial New Zealand. Whatever the validity of the prevailing stereotype with its emphasis upon the decorative rather than the useful woman, there was no room for idleness in Julia's day. Hers was a busy and engaged life directed towards providing an environment in which socially accomplished and useful individuals might flourish. This is clearly shown in her dutiful and detailed recording of her children's development. The pages of the 'Life Events Diaries' of Gladys and Anthony, in which Julia recounts her day by day engagement in their education, reveal a woman very conscious of the importance of her task and determined to do justice to it. Her desire for Gladys to assume something of the character of the 'new woman' captures the essence of her attempt to advance the cause of women. Similarly, her efforts to realise in Anthony the 'noble male', an accomplished and useful human being, reveal her continued commitment to social betterment. In seeking to realise these ideals, she constructed a lifestyle marked by plain living, vigorous exercise and above all a strong work ethic. The Wilding family experience also provides a commentary upon embryonic colonial nationalism. Frederick and Julia had seen New Zealand as a place in which to realise the full potential of the British race and they remained committed but not uncritical in their support for the cause of Empire. As first generation colonial-born New Zealanders, their children can be observed taking tentative steps towards seeing themselves as New Zealanders. The trend is most clearly illustrated in the sporting career of Anthony. As a member of the Australasian tennis teams which wrested the Davis Cup from the USA, and four times Wimbledon Singles Champion, he became arguably the colony's first national sporting hero. Significantly, his achievements were celebrated as much in Britain as they were in New Zealand. By his death in World War One he came to be celebrated as the ideal New Zealand male.