Page 1: Biography
Salvation Army officer, social worker, probation officer
This biography, written by Niels Reinsborg, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
According to her own account, Bertha Schroeder was born on 8 December 1872 in Australia. She was the daughter of German immigrant Frederick William Schroeder and Mary Ann Hughes. The Schroeders moved to New Zealand and Bertha spent her early childhood at various settlements around Southland and Stewart Island, where her father worked as a sailor and a sawmiller. Her mother was a Wesleyan Methodist, and when the family lived on Stewart Island she encouraged Bertha to attend a small Sunday school. It was not until the family moved to Georgetown, south Invercargill, that Bertha had her first contact with the Salvation Army. In November 1889, as she was passing their barracks, she was attracted by shouting coming from inside the building. She was soon converted and joined the organisation as a junior member. Shortly afterwards her parents also became active Salvationists.
Bertha Schroeder worked as a domestic until 24 August 1892 when, at the age of 19, she entered the Salvation Army Training Garrison in Christchurch to train as an officer. She left in December that year for her first appointment as a corps officer, or minister, at Milton. Corps appointments followed in Dunedin, Mosgiel, Queenstown and Balclutha. During this time she became familiar with social work. Her first experience was gained while she was stationed in Dunedin in 1893. Here she was a frequent visitor to the depressed industrial suburbs, visiting people in their homes or in public houses. In 1895 she was sent to work in corps in eastern Australia. She returned to New Zealand by early 1900, and for the next 13 years, in spite of deteriorating health, held 15 further corps appointments, mainly in the South Island.
In 1913 Bertha Schroeder was appointed assistant at the officers' training garrison and in 1914 she received her first social work appointment, as assistant at the Army's maternity home in Christchurch. She remained there for eight years, finally becoming matron. Her experience at the maternity home fitted Schroeder well for her next appointment. In 1922 she was given the title of social secretary, her task being to promote the Army's social work throughout New Zealand. For the next four years she toured the country, holding meetings in churches, halls, schools and homes to speak about the needs of women and children, and the work the Army was doing in these areas.
Promoted to the rank of major in 1925, she established an after-care section at the Children's Aid Department in 1926. This section became responsible for overseeing and assisting young adults who had passed through Salvation Army children's homes and orphanages. As after-care officer, Bertha Schroeder assisted 175 teenagers and young adults to become independent outside the Army's homes. She arranged accommodation, visited them in their new homes, helped find employment, provided a budgeting service, and organised reunions at children's homes throughout the country.
After 40 years of full-time work Bertha Schroeder retired to Invercargill on 8 December 1932, but continued an active involvement in corps and social work. Salvation Army officers carried out much of the probation work in New Zealand, and Bertha was appointed court worker and probation officer for Invercargill in November 1934, the first woman to hold this position in Invercargill and among the first in New Zealand. She was a well-known speaker on problems facing women and children, mainly addressing women's groups.
Bertha Schroeder devoted her whole life to her work and never married. She died at Invercargill on 20 January 1953. She was recognised as one of the Army's leading social workers, especially in the area of women's and children's social and rescue work.