‘Sunshine and fresh air' : an oral history of childhood and family in interwar New Zealand, with some comparisons to interwar Britain
Goodyear, Rosemary K
This thesis studies how 'modern ideas' of family life affected the lives of New Zealanders in the 1920s and 1930s. New Zealand experiences will be compared with those of British families, since most European New Zealanders were of British origin. By comparing similarities as well as differences it is possible to explore characteristics of New Zealand life in this period. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the concept of childhood underwent a radical revision in all western societies. Previously children had been expected to work in a family economy. During the nineteenth century the need for an educated workforce led to the introduction of compulsory schooling. Legislation restricting child labour and enforcing schooling reinforced childhood dependence, and children became a greater economic burden on their parents. These changes in childhood helped to transform the nature of family life, as the family lost its function as an economic unit. The interwar period saw the triumph of the modern family, but social class and geographical location mediated the adoption of new ideas. In the countryside family labour continued to be a necessity for many small fanners, and the family economy remained until well into the 1930s and 1940s. Change occurred to a greater extent in urban areas but many poorer working-class families needed children's labour and wages to supplement the breadwinner's earnings. It will be argued that these economic differences created contrasts in family structures between rural and urban life, and middle class and working class childhoods. This thesis will discuss how the forces of change affected relationships within the family, but also examine the forces that mediated change. Three areas will be covered: official attitudes to children, family structure and parent/child relationships, and the wider context of kinship and community. Children became a matter of state importance in the early twentieth century. Changes to the education and child welfare systems reflect this shift. The government took an increasingly regulatory attitude to children. State initiatives in education, such as the school medical service, attempted to teach principles of healthy living and good parenting. These outside forces affected children and their families. A detailed examination of family structure and parent/child relationships reveals both change and continuity. Scientific theories of child-rearing influenced parenting in the interwar period. The Plunket movement, established by Truby King in 1907, grew rapidly in New Zealand in the 1920s. The central section explores the impact of new ideas on child-rearing, and examines children's relationships with mothers and fathers. Variations in family life occurred because gender and placement in family, as well as individual personality, determined experience of family life. A disparity emerges between country and town, middle class and poorer working class families. The latter had to struggle, particularly during the depression. They faced the greatest difficulty in achieving ideal standards of family life. Few state resources existed for widows and deserted wives and to a large extent they depended on kin for support and existence. Family life took place within a wider context of kinship and community. Relations and neighbours played a very important role for parents and children, although family and neighbourhood ties appeared stronger in Britain than in New Zealand. The study is based on extensive primary research: national archive files, children's letters, and interviews. I interviewed forty-one New Zealanders, and collected thirty-four interviews in Britain. Oral history allows us to explore how gender, class, religious and geographical factors shaped the lives of real people. Although memories can be problematic, without oral history it would be difficult to access childhood experiences, since children are the most powerless and least articulate group in any society.
Advisor: Brooking, Tom; Page, Dorothy; Thompson, Paul
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: History
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis