Page 1: Biography
Trent, Mildred Annie
Cook, tearooms manager, community worker
This biography, written by Jo-Anne Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Mildred Annie Trent was one of twin daughters born to Frederick Trent and his wife, Mary Sowersby, at Christchurch on 8 July 1883; there were four other children in the family. Frederick Trent was a partner in, and later proprietor of, Trent Brothers, which made a coffee drink from chicory. Educated at a private school in Cranmer Square, Mildred later attended the Christchurch School of Domestic Instruction. She gained its certificate, and a first-class certificate from the City and Guilds of London Institute.
Mildred Trent then travelled to Edinburgh and trained in the Edinburgh School of Cookery, where she gained a first-class diploma in all the domestic arts. She also received first-class certificates for hygiene and chemistry of food from the Education Board, South Kensington, and similar certificates from Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh. She spent the next five years in London, became a licentiate of the Universal Cookery and Food Association and won a medal for cakes at one of their annual exhibitions.
On returning to Christchurch around 1908, Trent began a business catering for functions and was engaged by councils and electricity boards throughout New Zealand to give demonstrations of cooking with electricity. Her cookery book, The up-to-date cook's book (1928), was said to be the first to contain full instructions for cooking with electricity.
Probably in the 1920s, Trent was employed as the manager of the Tudor Tea Room, the largest in Christchurch, which was situated in Beath's department store. Morning and afternoon teas and lunch were served, and Trent supervised a staff as well as cooking and organising meals. About 1931 she published Stevens' 'Cathedral brand' essences cookery book. Women who worked for Mildred Trent recalled her as being strict and working staff hard, but she was much liked and taught them well. Meticulous in her preparation and presentation of food, she would not lower her standards for anybody.
Trent was deeply involved in community activities. In 1924 she joined the National Council of Women of New Zealand's Christchurch branch; she was elected a member of the national committee in 1927 and secretary of the branch in 1928. From 1929 she attended meetings as a delegate of the women's branch of the Christchurch Citizens' Association, a vehemently anti-labour organisation which promoted candidates for city council elections. In 1932 she was elected president, and remained a member until her death.
In 1931 Trent was elected vice president of the Christchurch branch of the NCW. She represented it on the Christchurch Women's Unemployment Committee, which set up several schemes to train women and girls in cooking and sewing. In April 1932 Trent spoke at a meeting of the Christchurch branch of the NCW about unemployment and its effect on women and girls. She outlined a scheme of training in domestic work for unemployed women. With the support of the NCW, the unemployment committee put the scheme into operation in August 1932. Initially 25 girls started training in cookery and sewing at the Majestic Building in Colombo Street. As part of the scheme meals were distributed to needy families. Trent was actively involved in the operation of the training centre. In June 1933 a subcommittee of which Trent was a member proposed that the Christchurch branch of the NCW concentrate on unemployment. Trent also became the convener of the NCW's dominion subcommittee on unemployment and was a member of the subcommittee set up to investigate methods of distribution of relief.
Mildred Trent was elected president of the Christchurch branch of the NCW in May 1934. Due to pressure of business, she resigned as its representative on the Christchurch Women's Unemployment Committee the following year. She remained president of the branch until 1937, when she went to America to visit her twin sister, Maude, whom she had not seen for 18 years. During her visit she examined the American style of food and cooking, which she described as having little meat and no puddings. She was dominion president of the NCW from 1937 to 1940, representing it at a conference in Sydney in 1938 and maintaining contact with women in many countries.
In 1938 Trent originated the idea of a memorial to pioneer women in the form of a seat in a stone shelter erected at the junction of the Bridle Path and the Summit Road in the Port Hills; it was completed in December 1940. She had been unwell over this period, and died in her home in Rossall Street on 9 February 1942; she had never married. In her obituary she was described as 'one of the best known, most public-spirited, and most useful women in Canterbury'.