ECE diamonds

Marge Williams – an early childcare activist

Life member 1988

Marge Williams, like a number of early childcare activists, did not see herself as being a political person, but she strongly believed in what was best for young children.

In the late 1950s, recently widowed, Marge took Playcentre qualifications, studied child development, converted the downstairs of her Taupō house, built equipment and toys, and opened a childcare centre. 

From 1961 onwards, Marge started to include children with special needs. As demand grew, Marge started the  Intellectually Handicapped Society (IHC) in Taupō and expanded the centre to more sessions. However, was a struggle to secure funding from the Education Board to employ another teacher. “It wasn’t until 1980 I got help. I fought for twenty years.”

Marge believed children who attended childcare deserved the same rights to trained staff and government funding as those attending playcentres and kindergartens. She found like minds in the members of the newly formed Childcare Association at her first conference in 1966.

“They were such fantastic women and gave so much of themselves. It was amazing, the things we discussed—the need for training and the need for a much higher standard of hygiene. 
“We didn’t get any funding. I was always terribly short of money. However, the first issue was to get training. We needed to get higher standards across the country, trying to encourage people to have an education programme and basic equipment.   

“The first certificate in 1969 was through the Royal Society of Health in London. I became an Area Training Supervisor (ATS) and started visiting centres and saw the problems. The weekends were frantic because I covered Rotorua, Tauranga and Hamilton.”  

Reflecting from the 1990s, Marge recalled: “When I look back, it wasn’t until the early eighties that things started to improve for childcare…. There was still a large group, particularly male, who feel that a woman’s place is in the home and that children should not be left in childcare. But there was more interest in preschool education and more mothers were working… There are so many more resources you can get. The new curriculum, [Te Whāriki] helps us and in particularly the engagement with Māori language and other languages. 

“The important thing is that every child has a right to achieve his or her potential regardless of what ability or lack of ability they have. Every child has a talent of some kind—you’ve only got to find it.”
Marge was National Advisor of the Association from 1994 to 2002 and helped to develop the Diploma of Teaching qualification, a precursor to today’s Bachelor of Teaching (ECE). 

Marge was a member of the Association (now Te Rito Maioha) from 1966, area training supervisor in the 1970s and 1980s, made a life member in 1988, and appointed national advisor in 1994.

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read Marge's full story and those of other ECE champions:

Life Stories on the Frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa
Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa