Sarah Sophia Stothard

AGGS group: Rhonda Tibble (Kahurangi), Margaret Cotter (Board of Trustees), Ngaire Ashmore (Principal), Charmaine Pountney (former Principal), Gillian Dance (former PTA Chair, and initiator of the project)

Charmaine hasn’t had her photo taken in a graveyard before, but this was a special occasion – we were celebrating the unveiling of a headstone for a woman who died one hundred and sixteen years ago.

Gillian Dance, a former chairperson of the Parent-Teachers’ Association at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School during Charmaine’s time as principal there, had discovered that Sarah Sophia Stothard, the founding principal of the first state secondary school for girls in Auckland (the Auckland Girls’ Training and High school, which opened in 1877) was buried in an unmarked grave in the historic area of Purewa Cemetery. This school was the forerunner of the Auckland and Epsom Girls’ Grammar Schools- when it closed in 1888  the remaining girls were transferred to the Auckland Grammar School. Accordingly, in 1988, we celebrated the AGGS Centennial. 

Both girls’ grammar schools acknowledge the educational contribution of Sarah Sophia in their centennial histories.  Brought to New Zealand by the Church Missionary Society in 1861 to teach in a Maori school, an activity interrupted  by the NZ Land Wars, Sarah Sophia Stothard became well known in many parts of the country – in addition to advocating  education for women, she ran classes for young women in chemistry and physics, was principal of or teacher at several schools, and in later life worked closely with the wife of the Anglican Bishop of Auckland supporting homeless women, prostitutes and other women in need. It seemed unfair she should be forgotten in death, and her grave unmarked.

So we gathered a group representing staff, Boards  and former students of both schools, and raised the funds for a headstone, which was unveiled on 17 October 2017.  The service was led led by the new Dean of Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral , Anne Mills, with a group of staff  and students from the AGGS Kahurangi programme. 

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