Queer Places:
Dunottar, 14 Maheno Street, Maori Hill, Dunedin 9010, New Zealand

Gertrude Helen Benson (née Rawson, 25 January 1886 – 20 February 1964) took the teaching of sanitary science with her to New Zealand, where she joined another British woman, Winifred Boys-Smith, the University of New Zealand’s first woman professor, to set up courses in science, food and nutrition and practical courses in home and institutional management. Their school of home science opened in 1911 with five students in a tin shed which had belonged to the School of Mines. Professors from the Medical School taught the basic science courses as for the intermediate examination in medicine, including physics, inorganic chemistry, bacteriology, biology and physiology and public health. Boys-Smith and Rawson added household business affairs, applied chemistry, practical cookery, needlework and hygiene. A second professor, Ann Munroe Gilchrist Strong, a member of the original Lake Placid group, later joined them from the US.

Helen Rawson was a New Zealand professor of home science. She was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, on 25 January 1886 (and registered as Gertrude Ellen), the daughter of Agnes Annie Cragg and her husband, Joseph Cordingley Rawson, a cotton-spinner.[1] Helen attended high school in Bradford and Newnham College, University of Cambridge; she completed the natural science tripos, but as women were not then allowed to graduate, received her BSc only in 1919.[2] After completing a postgraduate diploma in household and social science from King's College, London, Benson was appointed as a lecturer in chemistry and household and social economics in the School of Home Sciences at the University of Otago from 1911.[1][2] When Professor Winifred Boys-Smith retired in 1920, Benson became Professor of Home Science and dean of the Faculty of Home Science.[1] Benson married William Noel Benson in December 1923, after which she resigned from her position at the university.[1] In 1920, after studying in the United States and Canada, Benson founded the New Zealand branch of the International Federation of University Women, and was its first president.[1][2][3]

Helen and Noel Benson on their wedding day, 8 December 1923
When they married in 1923, Helen and Noel Benson were both university professors; however, Helen immediately resigned and took up community work.

Helen and Noel Benson's was 'an ideal partnership', with the couple sharing ideas and religious beliefs. Both were active members of the Society of Friends and both served as clerk of the Dunedin meeting. They represented New Zealand at the Pan-Pacific Science Congress in Japan in 1925 and then travelled extensively there and in Asia. An interest in international affairs led to Noel Benson's becoming secretary of the New Zealand branch of the Institute of Pacific Relations, which he represented at a conference in Paris in 1934.

Helen Benson was 'tactful, sensitive and gracious'; Noel was noted for his keen sense of humour. Their house, Dunottar, was a place of genteel hospitality visited and enjoyed by generations of geology students. They had no children. Following a period of indifferent health, Noel died in Dunedin on 20 August 1957; Helen died at Dunedin on 20 February 1964.  


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