Story: Hutchinson, Amy May

Page 1: Biography

Hutchinson, Amy May

1888–1985

Maternity reformer

This biography, written by Philippa Mein Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Amy May Scott was born on 2 July 1888 in Islington, London, the daughter of William Scott, a silversmith's salesman, and his wife, Clara Rosina Charlotte Hawkins. She won a scholarship to the Mary Datchelor School for girls in London, but had to leave in 1902 when her family emigrated to New Zealand. After brief stays in Rotorua and Auckland, the family moved to Wellington, where Amy trained as a secretary and joined a small orchestra. From 1909 the Scotts settled in Auckland where, on 25 May 1912, Amy married Frederick John Hutchinson, a merchant.

Once her two children, born in 1913 and 1919, were grown, Amy Hutchinson became active in social work in Auckland. A member of the National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCW) from the 1920s, she was an Auckland branch delegate in 1935 and conducted inquiries into child welfare and state maternity services on its behalf. An advocate of hospital births, she wanted more maternity beds in Auckland, improved maternity services 'to women and girls of small means', and the 'utmost attention and relief from pain which science can provide' for women giving birth. Hutchinson represented the majority opinion of middle-class women's organisations. She looked to the New Zealand Obstetrical Society as the authority on childbirth, and supported its position that a doctor and trained nurse should be present at the birth of every child.

Her views were shared by the New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women and Children (NZSPWC), for whom she went to work in the 1930s when Frederick Hutchinson was made redundant from the family business because of his Labour sympathies. Amy shared these sympathies and was a member of the Fabian club. Her work with the NZSPWC was a logical step for Hutchinson, who recalled seeing the foundling hospital in London where a basket outside always awaited the unwanted baby. She was the society's collector and assistant secretary from 1934 to 1936, and secretary of the Auckland branch from December 1936 until 1949.

Her keen interest in state maternity services led to her appointment to an NZSPWC subcommittee on the topic and to her investigation of this issue for the NCW. In 1936, as the joint convener of its subcommittee to consider maternity services, she lobbied to enlarge and modernise the St Helens Hospital in Auckland to cater for all classes of women. She was first speaker in a deputation from the NZSPWC to Peter Fraser, the minister of health, that year to press for a maternity hospital to be built by the Auckland Hospital Board. Fraser appointed her to the 1937–38 Committee of Inquiry into Maternity Services, where she represented North Island women. She was satisfied that 'to a great extent its proposals were carried out, giving every pregnant woman a doctor and hospital service under the newly enacted Social Security Scheme'.

Amy Hutchinson was appointed a justice of the peace in 1935 and an MBE in 1948 for her community service. Elected to the Women's War Service Auxiliary in 1940, she was put in charge of the clerical division because of her secretarial experience. That year, as an NZSPWC delegate, she lobbied the government to give the same military allowance to separated women as that received by married women, to ensure that all mothers were paid to care for their dependent children.

Hutchinson regarded Dr Doris Gordon as 'our great guide' in securing state-funded attendance by a doctor at a hospital birth. Both women supported the campaign for a women's hospital in Auckland to provide needed beds and a postgraduate medical school. Hutchinson was a member of the Auckland Hospital Board from 1956 to 1959 and her name is engraved on the foundation stone of the National Women's Hospital, which opened in 1964. She retired aged over 70, having seen her aim achieved.

Reflecting on the women's liberation movement in the 1970s, Amy Hutchinson argued that although men and women were 'equal in human rights and dignity', women needed ' love more than rights'. She died in Auckland on 11 June 1985, aged 96, survived by a daughter and a son. Her husband, Frederick, had died in 1948. She has earned her place in New Zealand history as a 'maternal feminist', whose focus was the welfare of all mothers.

How to cite this page:

Philippa Mein Smith. 'Hutchinson, Amy May', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4h40/hutchinson-amy-may (accessed 19 August 2019)