The New Plymouth Scottish Women’s Club was formed by a group of women who were either born in Scotland themselves or were of Scottish descent in New Plymouth in New Zealand’s North Island. The Club had three main objectives: (1) to encourage and foster an interest in Scotland, Scottish traditions, history, song, story, etc.; (2) to hold meetings, lectures, social functions, etc.; and (3) to provide means of fostering a love of Scotland in Junior Members. In line with many other Scottish associations—certainly those in the twentieth century, which tended to maintain a more exclusive outlook—members had to be Scottish or of Scottish descent. This was later qualified so that daughters who had a Scottish mother, but a father of another nationality, could also join. Any woman wishing to join had to be nominated by two financial members, and then be accepted by the executive, before being required to pay the annual subscription. It was administered by an executive committee of 10 members who were ‘appointed for a yearly term at the Annual General Meeting’: a president, two vice-presidents, an honorary secretary and an honorary treasurer, as well as five members of committee, emulating the structures we have seen for other Scottish clubs and societies. From the Club’s first inception, meetings were held at fortnightly intervals, except for the summer holiday period from late November to late January. The Club’s yearly life-cycle thus usually started, befitting its Scottish remit, with the annual Burns anniversary.
The Club’s first meetings were held at founding members’ houses, but as its membership grew, quarters were sought out in the town of New Plymouth; eventually, the St Andrew’s Church Hall became the Club’s home. Rather than paying an annual rent, the Club made donations to the Church for use of the hall. The majority of Club meetings were ordinary forthnightly affairs for which members came together to pursue common social and cultural interests, to have afternoon tea and to discuss business matters relating to the Club. Each meeting had hostesses for the day who sorted out the afternoon tea and set up the hall; there was also usually a speaker who would talk about a topic of interest, and some form of musical entertainment was often included. As one guest speaker observed, ‘it is at once an honour and privilege to help carry on Scottish traditions, but it is also a responsibility.’ On occasions when no specific speaker of the day was present, club members prepared some other form of entertainment. It was common, for instance, for members to talk about their home region. Hence a group of members from the Highlands spoke about the ‘mystical beauty’ of the inner Hebrides and ‘tales of Faery Lore were told and humour characteristic of the various districts recited. … Songs were sung in the Gaelic and records played of various songs of the Isles.’ Club members also came together for various other social activities. They celebrated the Club’s birthday annually, organized picnics, had the odd bus outing and held an annual children’s day. Scottish calendar customs, such as Halloween and St Andrew’s Day were also celebrated, sometimes together with the New Plymouth Caledonian Society. The Club also offered a book exchange, which developed into a full-scale library with its own budget and designated elected librarians, and many competitions and raffles. These were sometimes held just for entertainment, but were often designed to raise money for particular causes. Since its inception, the Club had been strongly committed to charitable endeavours—albeit many of a small-scale nature: books were donated to the local hospital, and money was raised for a fund to establish a women’s hospital in Auckland. Members of the Club also looked after their own sick.
The commitment to social issues and benevolent work intensified during the Second World War, when a strong sense of patriotic duty underpinned the Club’s activities. Perhaps one motivation for this was the involvement of members’ children and husbands in the war. Club members raffled handmade shawls or socks for ‘Patriotic Purposes’, and the Club instated a ‘wool convener’ responsible for buying and distributing wool so that the Club’s members could knit socks for servicemen. These were gratefully received. As one soldier on active service wrote in a letter that has survived in the Club records: ‘I wish to express my appreciation and thanks for the gift received from your members of the Scottish Womens [sic] Club and my best wishes for the coming season to you all.’ Efforts did not stop when the war had come to an end. First, the Club began organizing so-called ‘Welcome Homes’ for returning soldiers, consisting of a programme of music and dancing. There was also a strong sense that members of the Club should help those affected by the war in Europe. In particular, it was agreed to send food parcels to Scotland. The aim was to dispatch 12 food parcels about every fortnight—an expensive endeavour, but one that members continued to support for over three years. The programme had started in March 1946 and ran through to November 1949, by which point the overall number of parcels sent was 683, with a value of £513.36.