In the early years of the twentieth century Margaret Wallis (the wife of the Bishop Frederic Wallis, Anglican Bishop of Wellington), Jean Gibb (wife of Rev Dr James Gibb, minister of St John's Presbyterian Church) and a group of other like-minded women recognised the need for a hostel for women who had come to Wellington to undertake study at Victoria University and/or Wellington Teacher's Training College. This group of women formed the Women Student's Hostel Society, and the outcome of their initial efforts was a two-storied wooden building at 282 the Terrace, which accomodated 29 residents. A kitchen, dining and sitting room, and accommodation for the matron - the person who ran the hostel - were included.
Opened in 1907, this building is still part of Victoria House, the longest established hall of residence at Victoria University of Wellington, and the second hall of residence for women students in New Zealand.
Almost immediately the building was finished, the Society purchased the cottage next door (280 The Terrace), using it for additional accommodation. This was the first of many acquisitions of adjacent or nearby properties over the next century. In the mid-1950s, the original building was extensively refurbished and extended over the site of the adjacent cottage, providing a few additional rooms, and improved kitchen facilities, dining room and common room.
Victoria House at 280-282 The Terrace, in 1958. The left-hand portion of the building – under the gable – dates from 1907. The buildings at the right of the photograph were later purchased by the Society and are now the site of the Bennett Houses.
Then in the early 1970s, a five-storeyed accommodation block – later called Wallis Wing – was built across the back of all the old houses the Society had acquired from 280 to 288 The Terrace. As before, the opportunity was taken to build a new kitchen and dining room to accommodate the greatly increased numbers of residents, and as a consequence the original hostel building was refurbished once again.
Wallis Wing in the 1970s. To the left is 286 The Terrace, used at that time as staff accommodation. 286 and its neighbour 288 were removed to make way for Pope House. The building at the extreme right is part of the original 1907 hostel building.
Some of the old houses along The Terrace were subsequently removed to enable construction of the modern buildings now known as Pope House (opened in 1993), and the Bennett Houses. Most recently, 9 Maurice Terrace (behind Wallis Wing) was reconstructed as Hutchison House (2013). In 2014 seismic strengthening was undertaken of Wallis Wing and a progressive refurbishment programme for the building was started, the first stage of which will be completed in early 2015.
The names of the houses that comprise Victoria House commemorate the founders and some of the subsequent chairpersons of the governing body (initially the Women’s Council, and more recently the Executive Committee).
These houses are named after Dr Agnes Bennett. She joined the Women’s Council in 1907, and was a champion of women’s rights to higher education. During the First World War she was commanding officer of the Seventh Medical Unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service, spending four years in medical service in Cairo and Serbia. Although not fulfilled in her lifetime, her ambition was for the hostel to be a hall of residence reflecting the intellectual life of the university.
Agnes Bennett in military uniform, in about 1916. She served 23 years on the Women’s Council, many as treasurer or secretary; she was President of the Council in 1924.
The building initially built by the Women Students’ Hostel Society survives – albeit in substantially modified form – as Gibb House. It is named after Jean Gibb, a co-founder of the Society.
Jean Gibb, whose “gentle tactfulness” was said to ease the Council’s deliberations during the Society’s early years.
The most recent addition to Victoria House – a completely refurbished bungalow in Maurice Terrace (behind Wallis Wing) – is named after Peg Hutchison, a stalwart supporter of Victoria House from the 1970s and a benefactor. She received a Distinguished Service Award from Victoria University in 1994.
Peg Hutchison – Chair of the Executive Committee 1974-1981, and benefactor, 2008
This building is named after Isabel Pope. Her grand-daughter was a resident at Victoria House at the time the building was completed.
Isabel Pope – president of the Women’s Council 1952-1955.
The five-storeyed Wallis Wing is named after Margaret Wallis, a co-founder of Victoria House. She envisaged that “there shall be very few rules to be observed by the Students in it, but what we do hope is that those who make use if it will always be loyal to its principles, and will create a sort of orderly, cultured atmosphere which will be worth any amount of hard and fast rules”.
Margaret Wallis – co-founder of Victoria House; president of the Women’s Council 1906-1911.
A graduate of Victoria University in 1940, Dr Flora Smith studied medicine at the University of Auckland and subsequently practised in Auckland. Her bequest “towards the cost of completing or providing amenities for women university students” provided development funds for Victoria House and Helen Lowry Hall. An initial suggestion to use the bequest to purchase Ambassador Flats at 7 Maurice Terrace was abandoned in favour of applying the funds to capital works underway at the time.
Flora Smith – benefactor, 1969
Read more about the history of Victorra House in:
Away From Home: The Story of Victoria House
, by Frances Porter. (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2002); available in the Victoria University of Wellington Library
Victoria House As it Was and Might Have Been
, by Peter and Catherine Hodder (Wellington: HodderBalog, 2012); available in the Victoria University of Wellington Library