Born at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, on 5 February 1862, Annie Mabel Hodge was the daughter of George Hodge, a master brewer, and his wife, Annie Bellamy. After initial tuition from a governess, Mabel, as she was known, was sent to school at Katharine Lodge in London. About 1879 she began to assist at Woodford House School in Croydon, Surrey. After a period studying and teaching in Germany, she returned to England about 1882 and taught again at Woodford House.
In the late 1880s her father died, and two of her brothers came to New Zealand. A. H. Hodge established himself as a civil engineer in Hastings, Hawke's Bay, and realised that there was no school which the established farming and professional families considered suitable for the education of older children. He wrote to this effect to his sister, and in 1893 Mabel Hodge, with her mother and younger brother, sailed to New Zealand. They arrived in Hastings towards the end of August.
Mabel Hodge took over a small school of 18 pupils. She soon heard that a large house was for sale, and made plans to open a boarding school. With the support of her brother and some of his friends she was able to raise a loan of £500 from the Bank of New South Wales, and a prospectus was prepared for the school, which she named Woodford House. It opened in February 1894, with four boarders and 18 day pupils. Mabel Hodge and four other teachers taught English, German, French, arithmetic and music. Her mother looked after the domestic side of school life.
As the school roll increased, cottages and land were added to the original purchase, and in 1900 a kindergarten for boys and girls was opened. Mabel Hodge was an energetic promoter of her school. By 1905 there were 24 boarders and 51 day pupils, and by 1908 a new building, with more extensive grounds, was needed. A company, Woodford House Limited, was formed, and a site at Havelock North selected for a new boarding school, 'to give the girls of the Dominion of New Zealand the advantages of the English training, adapted to suit the conditions of this country'. In 1910 Mabel Hodge went to England to recruit staff. The new school opened in February 1911, with 60 boarders and eight resident and two visiting teachers. New classrooms were added in 1914 and 1919. By 1916 science teaching was provided, enabling Woodford House to be inspected and registered with the Department of Education as a private primary and secondary school.
Striking-looking, slight and well groomed, Mabel Hodge was a gifted and innovative teacher. At Woodford House she provided an academic education enriched by a range of other activities: sports, arts and crafts, and practical subjects such as gardening and carpentry. By 1919 she had worked steadily for her school for 26 years, and had gradually relinquished teaching duties for administration. In 1922, her health no longer strong, she decided to retire. In 1933 she was instrumental in forming the Woodford House Old Girls' Association, with which she remained deeply involved. Mabel Hodge never married. She died at Te Awanga, near Havelock North, on 15 October 1938.