Following family tradition

Claire Steele, of Wellington, who graduates from the University of Otago today, holds a...
Claire Steele, of Wellington, who graduates from the University of Otago today, holds a photograph of her great-great-great-aunt, Caroline Freeman, the first woman to graduate from the University of Otago and the founder of a girls' school which became part of Columba College. Peter McIntosh.
When Claire Steele graduates from the University of Otago today, she will be one of many thousands of women to have done so in the university's 140 years.

But Ms Steele has more reason than most to be grateful for the 19th-century women who broke down educational gender barriers: her great-great-great-aunt was Caroline Freeman, the first woman graduate from Otago.

Miss Freeman, whose sister married into the Brown family which eventually produced Ms Steele, graduated with a BA in English in 1885 when she was about 32 (her exact birthdate is not known).

She was especially remarkable because she had no secondary schooling and studied part-time for her university entrance qualifications while teaching at Caversham School.

In 1886, she founded Girton College, a private girls' school, and later founded another Girton in Christchurch.

The Dunedin Girton became part of Columba College in 1915.

Miss Freeman died in 1914.

Ms Steele (23), of Wellington, said she had not told anyone she was related to Miss Freeman during her five years' study at Otago.

"I didn't bring it up at all then, but I have now I am graduating. It makes it all the more special to have gone to the same university as she did."

She will graduate with a master of planning degree with distinction.

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