“I make no excuses for putting children first in my service to the kindergarten movement. Nothing is of greater importance than the education of the preschool child. These are the formative years and what happens today helps shape the children of tomorrow. His future is in our hands.” –Edie Martin, 1985
After the Second World War, a rapid expansion of free kindergarten provision was pushed forward which saw increased government involvement and, from 1958, a requirement that new kindergartens be established only in purpose-built buildings. .
Unlike schools, kindergartens were owned and operated by their respective committees, which involved a lot of parental involvement.
Building purpose-built kindergartens required extensive community planning, lengthy fundraising, regular worker bees, and the persistence of local committees made up of concerned parents.
* The author writes for the first time about 75 years of South Canterbury Kindergartens
* South Canterbury Kindergartens will remain open during the holidays from 2020
* Memory Lane: D-Day loses its shine as post-war daily life turns bleak
Family and community based fundraising provided the impetus for the initial approved equipment and furnishings, aided by various local government supports and central government grants.
A key figure in Manawatū was Edie Martin; mother of three daughters and wife of a supportive husband.
Her time in kindergarten spanned 30 years, including time as a mother’s helper, a committee member, an association president, and seven years as national president of the New Zealand Federation of Kindergartens Association (NZKFA), as well as an attendee of more than 22 consecutive kindergarten conferences.
Established in 1949, the Palmerston North Free Kindergarten Association opened its first purpose-built kindergarten, City Kindergarten in 1955.
In nearby Hokowhitu, Martin joined a newly opened kindergarten committee at Ascot Street Baptist Hall that was raising funds to build a new kindergarten building.
Three years later, the Hokowhitu Kindergarten officially opened on May 24, 1958, with much celebration from young families in the area.
By 1969, the Association, now renamed the Manawatū Free Kindergarten Association (MKA), had 22 kindergartens, of which nine operated in newly constructed kindergarten buildings and a tenth kindergarten building awaited permission to start.
The costs were high, but the community support was immense. An anonymous member commented, “We never fail to applaud the energy and enthusiasm with which our committees approach this immense financial obligation and commit annually to meeting ever-increasing operating costs.”
For Martin, the 1960s as a young mother brought many new experiences. Speaking later at the 1985 New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union annual conference, she described an unforgettable event that had occurred at her first conference in 1963.
Presenting my first term on behalf of Manawatū with knocking knees, shaking hands and tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.
“I stood up to present what I thought was a revolutionary mandate designed to help those less fortunate than us. The mandate: a pooling of surplus money to enable associations struggling to find money to build a kindergarten in their area.
“Having presented the mandate, fortunately I sat down and waited for the passage of the mandate. Rising to his feet, the delegate from Auckland, whose name I thought I would never forget, but somehow I have, proceeded to tear our precious mandate to shreds, and was lost. I did not have the courage to speak for the rest of the conference.”
Martin soon acquired the necessary skills and experiences in his role; even with the changing governments during his many years in kindergarten.
“Kindergarten was a place to send children to play with others or to get used to a school environment, and the government, if you thought of us, would throw us a bone from time to time.
“But we were there, and we were determined, so little by little over the years we have won the right to participate in negotiations, attend national courses and be consulted on the issues that concern us. We have seen improvements in the areas of construction, maintenance, teacher training, teacher support, appointments, and appeals.
“We have meetings with officials from the Department of Education and the Minister of Education. Our opinions are listened to although they are not always in agreement. We also have the right to disagree and to do so on occasion.“
Around the late 1960s, Martin became involved in a photographic project documenting the development of the kindergarten building movement throughout New Zealand as a historical record.
The images were mounted in geographical order in two photo albums and stored for safekeeping in a back cabinet.
They were later found by RKA staff member Gaylyn Campbell who, recognizing their value, contacted me to see if I would be interested in looking after them. as a historical artifact.
I answered yes, definitely, and they were officially delivered and stored in a safe place where I worked on other projects. Eventually, it was time to begin the research and writing of the Edie Martin project.
But Martin wasn’t done serving his community. She held two other key positions as chair of the nominating committee and as a member of the Palmerston North Teachers College Regional Management Council.
Both positions enabled her to serve the student intake of women enrolled in the university’s new teaching qualification for girls seeking to teach in kindergarten.
In 1985, Martin became an honorary life member of the NZFKU. In her last speech as its president in 1985, she recalled memorable experiences from the 22 conferences she had attended.
His speech made reference to: ”Emluminating speeches by Miss Christison, the Government pre-school adviser; the passionate pleas for change and the equally passionate pleas for no change; the lawyers and the insurance people all wanting insurance or rules; fundraising schemes like the big Christmas cake bake with hundreds of people baking Christmas cakes in the kindergarten. The last idea failed to get enough takers.”
Thirty-two years later, a newspaper article in the Manawatū Standard on December 18, 2017 showed Edie Martin as a resident at a retirement home, sitting by a table laden with several small Christmas cakes and a larger tiered cake baked on site.
Edie Perón Martín died in 2020 at the age of 92.
Kerry Bethell is a historian interested in writing about the people, places, and things that spark her curiosity.