Tag Archives: Emily Siedeberg

Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Building

Rebuilt: 1934-1935
Address: 362 Moray Place
Architect: Cecil Gardner Dunning
Builders: Love Construction Co.

One of Dunedin’s more jazzy and original expressions of the Art Deco style has been home to the Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association for 75 years.

In the nineteenth century its Moray Place site was part of a large coal and firewood yard. In 1909 a single-storey structure was built for the consulting engineer William James as an office, together with a shop he rented out. An extension followed in 1913.

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The site as it appeared in 1874, with Stuart Street in the foreground. Detail from Burton Bros panorama. Te Papa O.025698.

Elevation and section plans of the original building, erected for William James in 1909.

The building gained an additional storey and its distinctive style in 1934 and 1935, through work carried out for new owners S.R. Burns & Co. by the Love Construction Co. Stanley Burns was a decorated returned soldier, who served in France in the First World War. He ran a tailoring business in Dunedin before setting up a company dealing in shares and the promotion of subsidiary companies with diverse interests in property, printing, caravans and camping equipment, cosmetics, and other areas.

The architect for the work, Cecil Gardner Dunning, was the South-African-born son and former practice partner of another local architect, William Henry Dunning. The younger Dunning’s other Dunedin designs include the former customhouse (now Harbourside Grill) and numerous private residences.

The facade as it appeared c.1935.

Bold and contrasting colours originally emphasised the angular design of the facade, likely including a warm red like the one recently revealed on the former Victoria Insurance Building in Crawford Street. The interior continued the theme, with its modern fittings, bevelled glass doors, and fashionable terrazzo flooring in the foyer and on the stairs.

The top floor was fitted out as a beauty salon for the subsidiary Roxana Ltd, ‘in accordance with modern trend and tastefully furnished to provide the maximum comfort to clients’. Much of this fit-out remains. Decorative elements included wood panelling in Pacific maple and Australian walnut ply, carnival glass windows, and black Vitrolite (an opaque pigmented glass) at the cosmetic counter and pay desk.

Sandford Sinclaire, a graduate of the Wilfred Academy of New York, managed the skincare and make-up side of the business. From a six by four foot cubicle, described as his cosmetical laboratory, came Roxana Beauty Preparations, with their ‘special exotic properties anticipated to appeal to women of fashion throughout New Zealand’. Equipment included what promoters claimed to be the country’s first Dermascope complexion analysis machine. The ‘coiffure section’ under the direction of Miss MacDonald, previously of Melbourne and Sydney, boasted the latest in hair-waving machines.

Sinclaire was dismissed for incompetence after less than a year and the salon closed in August 1937. Cosmetics continued to be produced for a short period under a new Eudora brand. By 1941 Burns’s small empire was crumbling amid financial losses and fraud (he was imprisoned in 1943) and his building was sold to the newly-formed Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association.

Dr Emily Siedeberg-McKinnon, the founding president of the association, was New Zealand’s first woman medical graduate. She worked as a general practitioner in Dunedin from 1897, and among her many other roles was Medical Superintendent of St Helen’s Maternity Hospital. Her house in York Place features in a previous post on this blog.

In 1928 she visited the Women’s Building in Vancouver, Canada. Over one hundred women’s groups used this new and central facility, which inspired her to promote something similar for Dunedin. She did not find an opportunity until 1936, when the recently-elected Labour Government announced extensive plans and regional funding for the upcoming New Zealand Centennial celebrations. Provincial committees were established, and on 31 July 1936 Siedeberg-McKinnon chaired a meeting to explore the idea of a memorial to Otago’s pioneer women. Proposals included a memorial arch, the cleaning up of slum areas, and a quaintly-described ‘home for gentlewomen of slender means’, but the delegates representing thirty-nine women’s organisations agreed they should pursue the idea of a women’s community building. The Otago Women’s Centennial Council was formed to further the project.

Dr Emily Siedeberg-McKinnon (1873-1968)

The new group had the support of Dunedin’s Labour mayor, Edwin Cox, and in February 1938 its proposal gained formal approval from the Provincial Centennial Council. It agreed that a women’s building should be one two major memorials for Otago, with the other being a cancer block at the public hospital.

In the following months Siedeberg-McKinnon outlined a proposal for a two-storey building with five committee rooms, a conference and concert room, a public lounge, two smaller lounges, a kitchen, and caretaker’s quarters. It would be available to both women and men and be similar in size to the Order of St John building in York Place. An obelisk dedicated to Otago pioneer women might be placed outside the entrance. The cost was estimated at between £7,500 and £10,000.

Cox was defeated at the local body elections in May, and while fundraising plans progressed, opposition to the scheme was finding traction. Earlier opposition had included some saying that women had no business wanting to go to meetings, and that their place was the home and the care of children. Sexism was a constant obstacle, and so were competing interests for the available funding. In September the new committee of the Provincial Centennial Council rescinded the original decision in favour of other schemes, cutting off access to the expected government subsidy. Siedeberg-McKinnon pointed to political and class bias, and to businessmen who favoured putting more money towards the national exhibition in Wellington, furthering their own commercial interests.

Perspective drawing of proposed community building on the Garrison Hall site, between Dowling and Burlington Streets. H. McDowell Smith architect.

Siedeberg-McKinnon encouraged supporters not to ‘crumple up at the first set back’ and plans continued to be developed for a general Memorial Community Building on the Garrison Hall site, between Dowling and Burlington street. The Provincial Committee again rejected the plans, and by this stage it was obvious it would not support funding any women’s or community building.

Dispirited, Siedeberg-McKinnon had a vivid dream in which she climbed from a walled enclosure, found her way through marshy ground, and looked up to see a large unfinished building with scaffolding around it. Encouraged, she found support to renew her efforts and led the formation of the Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association at an ‘indignation meeting’ on 14 March 1939. The new name was necessary as legislation reserved the word ‘centennial’ for official projects and the group had been threatened with legal action.

Successful fundraising and a mortgage allowed the purchase of the Burns & Co. building and the refurbished property opened on 23 February 1942. Intended as temporary accommodation, the association remains there three-quarters of a century later.

The largest room was the hall. Other spaces included a boardroom and a lounge. A small chapel on the first floor named the Shrine of Remembrance was dedicated on Otago Anniversary Day 1946. Designed by architect Frank Sturmer, it was furnished with an oak chair made by Dunedin’s first cabinetmaker, John Hill, and a new oak refectory table by local Swedish-born cabinetmaker Alfred Gustafson.

Robert Fraser designed a memorial stained-glass window set within three gothic arches, but due to his failing health the work was taken on and executed by John Brock. The central panel shows Christ walking on water and his disciples in a rowing boat. The left-hand panel illustrates a migrant family departing Britain, and the right-hand panel depicts arrival in Otago. The arrival panel includes mother and daughter figures, the ship Philip Laing, a whare, and native flora including ferns and cabbage trees. The shrine was later decommissioned and the window was moved to the foyer. The inscription beneath the window reads:

This window commemorates the safe arrival in Otago of all those Pioneer Women who braved the dangers of the long sea voyage to assist in the settlement of the Province of Otago and is a tribute to their sterling qualities of character, their foresight, their self sacrifice and their powers of endurance through many hardships. A recognition by those who have reaped the benefit, spiritual or material.

The hall and rooms were made available to a wide range of community groups, and not exclusively women’s organisations. Those using the building in the 1940s and 50s included the Dunedin Kindergarten Association, Lancashire and Yorkshire Society, Rialto Bridge Club, Dunedin Burns Club, Federation of University Women, Practical Psychology Club, Sutcliffe School of Radiant Living, Musicians’ Union, Radio DX League, Otago Women’s Hockey Association, Registered Nurses’ Association, and many more. In 1960 over fifty organisations were using the hall and rooms. The Dunedin Spiritualist Church met in the building for nearly 50 years, from 1945 to 1994.

In 1958, the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association purchased a new property in York Place and again entered a period of active fundraising. It appeared to be close to realising Siedeberg-McKinnon’s vision for a purpose-built building, but again fell short of its ambitious target. Instead, the unique venue they had developed was maintained and continues to provide a valuable community asset today.

With this post I mark five years of blogging on this website. Thanks all for reading.

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 8 March 1937 p,27 (outline of aims), 3 August 1937 (community building proposed), 9 February 1938 p.6 (approval by Provincial Centennial Council), 4 October 1938 p.5 (attitude of committee opposed), 15 March 1939 p.10 (OPWMA formed), 24 April 1940 p.6 (annual meeting, history), 30 April 1941 p9 (need for headquarters), 23 October 1941 p.9 (building purchased), 24 February 1942 pp.3-6 (opening), 28 May 1942 p.6 (‘aims partly realised’), 25 March 1946 p.6 (memorial window), 30 May 1960 pp.4 and 10 (fundraising), 6 June 1960 pp.4 and 14 (usage); Evening Star 18 October 1938 p.1 (description of proposed building), 25 October 1938 p.7 (illustration of proposed building); 30 October 1958 (‘new building nearer realisation’), 14 May 1960 p.2 (fundraising), 24 May 1960 p.2 (fundraising); Weekly News (Auckland), 29 October 1941 p.14 (‘Headquarters as Pioneer Memorial’); The Press (Christchurch), 2 April 1936 p.11 (Sinclaire, wrongful dismissal case), 16 September 1943 p.6 (charges of fraud against Burns), 30 November 1943 p.7 (sentencing of Burns).

Other references:
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory, various editions 1884-1954.
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, [1889].
Jones, F. Oliver, Structural Plans of the City of Dunedin NZ, ‘Ignis et Aqua’ series, [1892].
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Chris Scott, Archivist)
Booking diaries from Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association Inc. records, Hocken Collections MS-3156.
Newspaper clippings from Dr Emily Hancock Siedeberg-Mckinnon papers, Hocken Collections MS-0665/046 and 047.
McKinnon, Emily H. and Irene L. Starr. Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial. (Dunedin: Otago Daily Times, 1959).
‘Eudora Limited, formerly Roxana Limited’. Defunct Company and Incorporated Society files, Archives New Zealand Regional Office, R43267.
‘Eudora Limited [Previously Roxana Limited] – Director’s Minute Book’. Archives New Zealand Dunedin Regional Office, R9071585.
‘S.R. Burns & Company Limited’. Defunct Company and Incorporated Society files, Archives New Zealand Regional Office, R43322.

Emily Siedeberg’s house

Built: 1903
Address: 75 York Place
Architect: James Louis Salmond (1868-1950)
Builder: Stephen Samuel Aburn (1869-1947)

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Emily Siedeberg outside her York Place home, in her yellow Clement-Bayard motor car. Image reproduced by kind permission of Steve Clifford.

New Zealand’s first woman medical graduate, Emily Hancock Siedeberg, lived in lower York Place for much of her life. Her handsome residence at number 59 (since renumbered 75) was built in 1903, five years after she went into private practice in Dunedin. Her family connection with the land dated back nearly as far as her birth.

Emily’s father, Franz David Siedeberg, was a Jewish settler from Memel, Prussia (now Klaipėda, Lithuania) and had been a pioneer in the Otago gold dredging industry in the 1860s. He married his second wife, Irish-born Anna Thompson, in 1867, and Emily was born in Clyde on 17 February 1873. She grew up as the second eldest of four children and later remembered a happy childhood with never a cross word between her parents.

Six months after Emily’s birth her family moved to Dunedin, where Franz worked as a builder.  His larger contracts included the construction of the Royal Exchange Hotel (later Standard Insurance building), Albany Street School, and stone abutments for the Jetty Street overbridge. From 1875 the Siedebergs lived in York Place, on a block of land where Franz built four houses. He later acquired adjoining property and built a two-storey wooden house.

Emily was educated at the Normal School (Moray Place) and Otago Girls’ High School, and studied medicine at the University of Otago from 1891 to 1895, graduating in 1896. She furthered her studies in Dublin and Berlin, before returning to Dunedin at the end of 1897. Early the following year she set up practice in one of her father’s York Place houses, in which he had arranged modest consulting and waiting rooms. Emily’s sister, Isabella, was housekeeper and looked after social engagements, and there was also a young maid. At first a horse trap and driver were hired as required, and later Dr Siedeberg had her own gig and employed a lad to drive it.

Franz died suddenly in September 1902, and six months later Dr Siedeberg visited architect James Louis Salmond to commission designs for a new house in front of the old family home. Salmond’s diary records his work on plans at the end of March 1903. He estimated the cost would be over £1500, and Siedeberg requested changes to get the cost under £1200 as the building was financed with a loan. The final drawings were ready in May, and at the end of that month the building contract was awarded to S.S. Aburn, who put in a tender of £1065. Aburn must have considered the job a good example of his work, as one of his advertisements showed his staff posed outside the building.

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Advertisement for builder S.S. Aburn from Stone’s Otago & Southland Directory, 1905. Image courtesy of McNab New Zealand Collection, Dunedin Public Libraries.

The house is in the style known as Queen Anne (confusingly, as the revived elements are not specific to the reign of Anne). The bay windows, elaborately decorated gable, and exposed red brick are typical of Salmond, and originally the house also featured his signature chimney stacks. The roof was slate. It is interesting to compare the York Place house with one of Salmond’s timber designs, at 12 Pitt Street.

A photograph taken in the 1910s shows the original exterior appearance, as well as Dr Siedeberg herself in her yellow Clément-Bayard motor car. She was one of the first women in Dunedin to own a car, and was once prosecuted for driving it at faster than a walking pace (a charge she successfully defended). She continued to drive until she was well into her eighties.

On the upper floor of the house were a drawing room and four bedrooms, necessary as Dr Siedeberg’s mother, sister, and younger brother all lived with her. Mrs Siedeberg was resident for twenty years and died in the house in 1923. Isabella, an accomplished artist who had studied at the Dunedin School of Art, stayed until the 1920s, when she moved to Auckland. Harry, the youngest of the family, lived in the house until his marriage in 1911, when he moved to the old family home next door. He was an insurance agent and successful sportsman, who played cricket for New Zealand and was four times national billiards champion. He was also an Otago hockey and football representative.  The older brother, Frank, was New Zealand chess champion and later worked as an engineer in Germany and England.

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Emily Siedeberg in graduation dress (Cyclopedia of New Zealand)

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Dr Siedeberg-McKinnon in the 1950s (Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association)

An entrance at the side of the house (since closed up) led to Dr Siedeberg’s waiting room, and across the hall was the consulting room, which faced the street. This arrangement kept the front door and hall clear for visitors making use of the corner sitting room where, if it was not time for tea, sherry and biscuits were the favoured refreshments.  Other downstairs rooms were a large dining room, a dressing room, a bedroom for the maid or maids, and a kitchen with adjoining pantry and scullery.

Dr Siedeberg’s niece, Emily Host, left some personal insights into life in the house, although it is not possible to fully verify them. She recalled a large tin bath in the scullery, high off the floor, and most of the time with a thick slab of wood across it for use as a bench. Dr Siedeberg was adamant the maids must take a bath every Saturday, although at least one objected to so much washing and bathing.

This was Elsie, whom Host described as a ‘blowsy blonde’ much addicted to boyfriends. On one occasion a noise was heard and Emily and Isabella came downstairs in gowns and long plaits to find one of these boyfriends climbing out of Elsie’s bedroom window. Afterwards the window was nailed up so that it could only be opened about two inches at the top.

Siedeberg wrote that in early days maids who white aprons and caps and said ‘Yes Miss’ or ‘No Ma’am’ when spoken to. Later they refused to where aprons or caps and became ‘very offhand in answering’.

Host described her aunt as someone who acted and thought according to Victorian principles. She had a sweet, dignified nature, and was very understanding of the human failings of those who were nasty to her.  She shocked her family and a large proportion of Dunedin by not taking a ‘proper’ view of ‘fallen women’, whom she often took into her home and helped.

Dr Siedeberg was Medical Superintendent of St Helen’s Maternity Hospital (the first in New Zealand to have an antenatal clinic), Medical Officer of the Caversham Industrial School, and anaesthetist at the Dental School. She was also an advocate of controversial theories of eugenics. The many organisations she played a leading role in included the New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women, the New Zealand Medical Women’s Association, the National Council of Women, and the Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Association. She was awarded a CBE in 1949.

Emily Siedeberg married in Los Angeles during an overseas trip in 1928, at the age of 55. Her husband, James Alexander McKinnon, was the retired manager of the Mosgiel Branch of the National Bank, and Emily became known as Dr Siedeberg-McKinnon. A new house for the couple was built in Cairnhill Street around 1929, and they moved again to Cargill Street around 1938. The second move was, according to Emily Host, so a frailer Mr McKinnon could be nearer to the bowling green.

The York Place house remained in family ownership with rooms rented to various tenants, including Mrs Elizabeth Tweedy who lived there for over twenty-five years. James McKinnon died in 1949 and Emily moved back to her old home around 1954, remaining there into the 1960s. She spent her last few years at the Presbyterian Social Service Association home in Oamaru, where she died on 13 June 1968 at the age of 95.

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75 York Place in 2016

In 1969 the house was much altered internally for use by the Otago Polytechnic for its School of Architecture and Building, and it was later used by the School of Art (to 1983) and the School of Nursing (1983-1987). In its more recent history the building has again become a place of medical practice, being the premises of the Dr Safari Appearance Medicine Clinic. Dr Soheila Safari is, in common with Emily Siedeberg, a graduate of the University of Otago, and has also worked as a general practitioner. She established her clinic in 2006 and has been based in York Place since 2008, offering a wide range of cosmetic treatments. Studio rooms are found on the first floor, still accessed by the same beautiful grand staircase built in 1903.

Newspaper references:
Otago Witness, 17 September 1902 p.22 (obituary for F.D. Siedeberg), 23 November 1904 p.62 (F.V. Siedeberg); Otago Daily Times, 10 February 1898 p.2 (new practice in York Place), 4 July 1914 p.5 (motor car).

Other references:
Stone’s, Wise’s, and telephone directories
Electoral rolls
Deeds indexes and registers. Archives New Zealand, Dunedin Regional Office.
Births, Deaths & Marriages online, https://www.bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz/Home/
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol.4, Otago and Southland Provincial Districts. (Christchurch: The Cyclopedia Company, 1905).
Host, Emily Olga. ‘Emily Siedeberg McKinnon’ (‘Notes made by Mrs Host when visiting the Hocken Library in 1966’). Hocken Collections, Bliss L9 McK H.
McKinnon, Emily H. and Irene L. Starr. Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial. (Dunedin: Otago Daily Times, 1959).
Sargison, Patricia A. ‘Siedeberg, Emily Hancock’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand. Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, retrieved 25 July 2016 from www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/3s16/siedeberg-emily-hancock
Work diary of James Louis Salmond in Salmond Anderson Architects records. Hocken Collections MS-4111/004.

Acknowledgments:
Special thanks to Dr Soheila Safari and Tina Catlow of Dr Safari Appearance Medicine Clinic.