Geraldine FitzGerald: a local leader

“She never wavered in her beliefs in how girls should be educated and in the importance of this work.” 

– Anne Mulcock: A Quite Original Type of School  

As we continue to celebrate 125 years of women’s suffrage at our wharebythesea we’re proud to welcome a new display to our walls – Geraldine Fitzgerald (1871-1955).  In this blog we introduce one of the powerful forces behind girls’ education here in Lower Hutt.

Geraldine – or Fitz as she was generally known; was a charismatic, strong-willed woman with an innovative approach to education.  She is best known for establishing the Chilton Saint James school in 1918, on Waterloo Road in Lower Hutt.

Fitz was the eleventh of thirteen children born to Frances Erskine, nee Draper, a Russian immigrant, and James Edward FitzGerald.  With a musically and linguistically talented mother and father who held well-known and often publicly unpopular egalitarian views, we suspect that her commitment to suffrage may have been sparked early on in life.

We also wondered if Fitz’s mother’s influence can be seen in her teaching methods.

A memorable anecdote from Priscilla Greenwood, piano teacher at the school in the 1920’s suggested this might be the case.  Greenwood was in the middle of a lesson one day when Fitz interrupted and said, “Write me a tune for the twice times table.”

Evidently Greenwood’s efforts were successful as she was called on to set the rest of the multiplication tables to music also – including the thirteen times table!

Early influences aside, Fitz was a woman known for her fierce determination as well as her commitment to girls’ education.  We are proud to share the story of her leadership with our community.

To learn more about Geraldine Fitzgerald’s life and legacy, visit us at Petone Settlers Museum where we look at more closely at Fitz’s leadership and accomplishments.

We are open seven days for summer, 10am – 4pm.  Come on by for a visit next time you are in the neighborhood.



Web 1

Fitz’s display at our whare-by-the-sea

Portrait 1

Geraldine FitzGerald, c 1918. Courtesy of Chilton Saint James School



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