Dress your best with the Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

The Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust (Trust) may not be a name many readers have come across before. However, those who have graduated from law school in Auckland may be familiar with the Trust under its trading name – Academic Dress Hire (ADH), a well-known supplier of academic regalia. The other thing you may not know is that all of the profits made from the regalia hireage business are ploughed back into the community, by way of awards and financial assistance to deserving women seeking to retrain or undertake full-time tertiary education.

Stephanie Harris

Lawyers will get now the chance to be part of the Trust’s work as it is providing a new service, having just purchased ADLS’s legal regalia business and stock. Gowns, wigs and bibs for barristers being admitted to the bar and moving counsel will all be available to hire or purchase from ADH’s premises at 17 George Street, Newmarket. So, any time you need to hire legal attire, if you do so from ADH, you will now be giving back to those in the early stages of their educational path.

The Trust is a non-profit organisation. Its vision of “empowering through education” is worked out through the provision of awards and financial and other assistance. It is named in recognition of Kate Edger, the first woman in New Zealand to gain a university degree and the first woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in the British Empire.

The Trust “puts its money where its mouth is”, with all proceeds from hireage going back into the 100 or more awards it gives away each year to women at tertiary institutions in the Auckland and Northland regions. Awards vary from small grants to assist with expenses or retraining, to much larger $16,000 doctoral and post-doctoral research awards. Without the Trust’s assistance, many of these women would not be able to access further education.

Who was Kate Edger?
Kate Edger, after whom the Trust was named, lived from 1857 to 1935. As there was no secondary education for girls in Auckland where she lived, she obtained permission from the headmaster of Auckland College and Grammar School to study with the top class of boys – the only female to do so at the time. When she subsequently applied to the University of New Zealand to sit for a University Scholarship, she gave her age but neglected to mention her gender, resulting in a successful application with no questions asked. She ultimately graduated, aged 20, with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Latin in 1877.

As the first principal of Nelson College for Girls, Ms Edger’s desire to give back and assist others on their educational journeys was evident. It was not infrequent to find her paying for school equipment herself when the council of governors was unable to. She also paid for an extra scholarship to allow one girl to remain at school.

Kate Edgar

From the loungeroom to the courtroom
These days, Ms Edger’s torch and philosophies have passed into new hands – those of the Trust and its trustees. The Chair of the Trust is Stephanie Harris, joint Managing Partner of Glaister Ennor. The other trustees are Emeritus Professor Charmian O’Connor, Jill Smith, Margaret Crannigan Allen, Sonia Pechner and Rebecca Ewert.

“The interesting thing is where it has come from,” explains Trust Chair, Stephanie Harris. It actually grew out of the Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Federation of Graduate Women, who started assisting with the supply of regalia for graduation to help the University of Auckland over 40 years ago.

“It all started with a group of women, who are now in their eighties or nineties. They created the underlying wealth of the Trust’s business – they literally got together in each other’s lounges, once a week, and sewed the hoods for hireage. It has always been about women helping women – that is our raison d’être,” she says.

Emeritus Professor Charmian O’Connor is the last remaining trustee who was involved in those days, and has devoted much time and energy over the years towards the cause. Another current trustee (Jill Smith) is the granddaughter of Kate Edger. It was the suggestion of Professor O’Connor to move the business from the Federation and put it in a separate trust, so it could become a more efficient, self-sustaining business and reach out to even more worthy candidates for assistance. As Ms Harris says, there came a point when it seemed a bit ridiculous running an initiative which was giving out hundreds of thousands of dollars a year “out of the lounge”, as it were.

Ms Harris says that “helping women enrich and empower their lives through education is hugely rewarding”. She became involved with the Trust when her firm did some legal work for it some years back, at the time when the hireage business was transitioning out of the old model and into the Trust.

“I am really proud of the Trust and what it does. The women receiving the awards have generally had very long roads to get where they are. We have had some very inspirational feedback over the years. Many of those whom we help are women who are retraining later in life; they have come to tertiary education via less traditional paths.”

Ms Harris says that, over the years, the Trust has given in excess of $1 million to the University of Auckland and its students alone. And, for the first time this year, the Trust will tip the mark of half a million dollars being given away in awards in one year.

Getting into legal regalia hireage
The inspiration to expand into legal regalia hireage came from a barrister and ADLS member, recalls Ms Harris. “I was talking with someone about the number of calls that go around the legal community, to the effect of ‘have you got a gown or wig I could borrow for such and such admission ceremony?’” she says. From there, the idea grew. “We felt there was a demand to be met and that we could offer a centralised service from one place”.

She notes that a more relaxed approach to the wearing of legal regalia has been given the judicial nod of approval in recent times, perhaps in response to the fact that so many people were finding it too difficult to obtain what they needed. However, in her view proper court dress is something worth holding onto.

“Now, you will be able to get a full set of court attire for $100 – we wanted to make it reasonably priced so that everyone gets the opportunity to wear regalia on those special occasions.”

Ms Harris sees admission as the culmination of so much hard work, and such a unique moment of identification in one’s legal career, that it is such a shame not to dress up correctly in that special, easily recognisable garb and make it an occasion to remember.

“It harks back to us being a profession, and an important one at that. We shouldn’t lose sight of what a law degree means and the obligations it confers on us.” When asked about any pet hates or fashion faux pas that she has observed in terms of the legal profession’s dress sense, Ms Harris struggled to name any, and generally thinks we are a pretty well-dressed bunch. “What I like to see is regalia worn well and in keeping with the profession”.

The new legal regalia hireage and sale service will be offered nationwide from 14 October 2014, with distribution from Academic Dress Hire’s Auckland premises at 17 George Street, Newmarket. For all admission ceremonies, please book as far in advance as possible with Ron Hoyland by phone 09 3581044, mobile 021 298 4136 or email warehouse@academicdresshire.org.nz, or visit www.academicdresshire.co.nz.

For more information on the Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust or to apply for a Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust award please contact enquiries@kateedgertrust.org.nz or visit http://www.academicdresshire.co.nz/Academic+Awards+Available/

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