Beryl Hughes, a staff member in the History Department at Victoria University of Wellington, c.1961-86 and instigator of women’s studies and women’s history in New Zealand, died on Monday 7 December 2015.
Beryl is probably best known beyond VUW for her co-edited collection Women in New Zealand Society (Allen & Uniwn, 1980) with Phillida Bunkle. Beryl wrote on women in the professions and for many years taught Medieval England and courses on Women in Early Modern Europe. She was a key instigator of the first Women’s Studies course taught at Victoria University as WISC 201: Women in Society in 1975.
When the course was introduced it was described as ‘The study of a particular phenomenon: the status of women in contemporary society.’ By 1986, when’ WISC 202 Images of Women’ and ‘WISC 301 Feminism and Social Theory’ were also offered, the course prescription read: ‘A description of the economic, legal and social position of women in society, past and present, incorporating a critical review of various theories concerning the nature of women and their role and status in society.’
Beryl played a major part in bringing the study of women, including women’s history, into New Zealand universities. She also worked actively to promote educational and professional advancement for women at a time when those aspirations were easily belittled. Her work is warmly acknowledged.
A fuller outline of Beryl Hughes’ career appears below – as circulated to colleagues at VUW:
We have just learned that a former member of the History Department, Beryl Hughes, died on Monday, 7 December 2015, in Wellington. Beryl was 95.
Beryl Hughes was born in Cowbridge, South Wales, but spent her childhood in Scotland. She completed an MA at Glasgow University as a wartime student. In the early 1950s Beryl came to New Zealand where her husband, George, took up an appointment as the first professor of Philosophy at Victoria University College (as it then was). In the early 1960s Beryl began teaching part-time in the History Department while also raising a family of four children.
With Lucie Halberstam, Beryl was a mainstay of first year teaching, responsible for units (late courses) on Medieval Europe and Medieval England. Early Modern Britain was also Beryl’s speciality.
Beryl was a founding member of the Association of Academic Women (1975), and was instrumental in getting the first Women’s Studies course launched as a degree course in 1975. Faculty discussion of the proposed course in 1974 was described by Beryl as ‘nasty, brutish and long’. WISC 201 was offered as a ‘Faculty Unit’, an interdisciplinary course offered Mon, Tues, Wed 10-11. Students were invited to take up the ‘study of a particular phenomenon: the status of women in contemporary society.’ The course was listed in the VUW Calendar 1976 after entries on Zoology and University Extension.
As Women’s Studies interest grew, Beryl became a member of the initial Board of Studies, working closely with her colleague in History, Phillida Bunkle, and those across the Faculty including Jacquie Matthews (French), Janet Holmes (Linguistics) and Ngaire Adcock (Psychology). In 1982 Beryl offered her HIST 311 Early Modern Britain course as a course on Women in Early Modern Society. Prior to this time HIST 311 had focused on Religion in Tudor England.
Beryl Hughes served as the ‘Chairman’ of the History Department from 1982-84. In that role she was preceded by D.L.Mackay and succeeded by D.A. Hamer (VUW Calendars, 1981-1986). Beryl retired in 1986.
She remained a highly active member of the university and women’s studies communities, presenting papers and publishing chapters, articles and books. In 1980 she co-edited the widely used Women in New Zealand Society (Allen & Unwin) with Phillida Bunkle; in 1993 she wrote Redbrick and Bluestockings. Women at Victoria 1899-1993 with Sheila Ahern (Victoria University Press).
In 1999 Beryl Hughes was interviewed by Jill Abigail about her life as a historian. The interview forms part of the Oral History Archive held at the National Library of New Zealand:
The Beryl Hughes Prize for an essay in women’s studies was established from a fund raised at the time of Beryl’s retirement.