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Valentine, Winifred Annie

1886–1968

Teacher, educationalist

This biography, written by Hilary Stace, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Winifred Annie Valentine was born on 5 May 1886 at Hawksbury (Waikouaiti), Otago, the youngest child in the large family of Mary Maxwell and her husband, Archibald Valentine, a road inspector. After attending school at Waikouaiti and Port Chalmers, she was a student at Dunedin Training College. While there she became friendly with Jean Begg, who was to teach in American Samoa and attend the School of Social Work at Columbia University, New York. Winifred visited her in Samoa and Jean later urged her to study in New York. Finding it hard to save on her teacher’s salary in Dunedin, Winifred shifted to Tinwald School, Canterbury. She finally sailed from New Zealand in December 1921.

Before leaving she had written to the Department of Education asking for advice on which courses to take and was told there was a great need for a specialist in the education of ‘backward’ children. As Valentine later wrote, ‘Inspectors had always told me that I devoted too much time to my backward children, so I agreed to the suggestion’. After spending some time in Winnipeg, on a teacher exchange scheme, she went to New York. The United States was leading the world in the psychological testing of children, and the Binet intelligence quotient (IQ) tests from France had been adapted for use with American children. Valentine received training in administering these tests and others designed to measure personality and practical ability. She also worked with Begg at Inwood House, a home for delinquent girls, and with ‘subnormal’ girls at a state reformatory in Pennsylvania. Later in London she attended lectures on psychology and psychiatry run by the Central Association for the Care of the Mentally Defective.

She returned home in 1923 to a temporary appointment with the Department of Education. Her job was to undertake a preliminary investigation of children in special educational classes by using the new IQ tests. There had been legislative provision for such classes since 1914, but after nine years only seven existed.

In the 1920s intelligence was seen as a fixed biological endowment and there was debate in New Zealand and elsewhere over what to do with children of below- average academic ability. Some saw it as a medical problem. The eugenics movement, which was influential at the time, linked mental deficiency with moral degeneracy and believed this could be contained through the segregation and even sterilisation of ‘mental defectives’.

The idea of special classes was to separate educable backward children from the ineducable ones: to help those who had the potential to become moral and self-sufficient adults. With her expertise in IQ testing Winifred Valentine changed the focus to an educational one. She felt that if children with lower IQs than other children were segregated in a suitable environment, it was better for their self-esteem. The results of the tests convinced her that some normal pupils had been dumped into special classes because of naughtiness or an inability to read. She also found that children who misbehaved were often threatened with ‘demotion’ to these classes.

As there was little material on how to teach backward children effectively, Valentine issued a cyclostyled booklet in 1926, containing suggestions for special- class teachers. It dealt with selection (which involved the co-operation of parents, school medical officers and teachers), the aims and internal organisation of the classes, teaching methods, curriculum and after-care. The booklet remained the only manual for many years.

In 1929 Valentine was appointed permanent supervisor of special classes, a position she held until 1942. She occasionally had an assistant, and some centres set up advisory clinics, but for most of the time she worked on her own, despite a growth in the number of special classes. It was a huge task, involving constant travelling, and although she found many school principals supportive, some inspectors resented her appointment. Part of her job was to combat prejudice among parents and the public towards special classes.

In a submission to the 1924 Committee of Inquiry into Mental Defectives and Sexual Offenders in New Zealand, Valentine had supported psychological testing and the segregation of children with special educational needs. The committee received numerous submissions: one result of the hearings was legislation setting up a Eugenics Board in 1929 to keep a register of mentally defective persons including children, thus blurring the boundaries between child welfare, health and mental health, education, and crime. However, the board was only active until 1932. By the time Valentine retired, new theories of education had become fashionable, emphasising the educational rights of the child without the moralistic undertones.

When she was in New York Valentine had enjoyed meeting other international students through various social clubs. In 1952 she became a foundation member of the Wellington United Nations Social Club, which aimed to help overseas students and immigrants to settle in New Zealand. She acted as hostess for many years and by the mid 1950s the club had 35 nationalities among its 400 members.

In her early 80s Winifred Valentine wrote the ‘Valentine saga’; these unpublished notes about her life and her family provide an insight into her pioneering work with backward children. A small woman with a warm personality, she died, unmarried, in Wellington on 6 August 1968. She had been a fighter for the rights to an education for children with special educational needs, a battle that would continue.

How to cite this page:

Hilary Stace. 'Valentine, Winifred Annie', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4v1/valentine-winifred-annie (accessed 24 October 2021)