Suffrage 125: Marie Werder

Marie in England 1915. Dwyer collection.

Marie’s connection with Lower Hutt is that she purchased Mrs. Hulme’s Private Hospital, a private maternity hospital in a large house at 15 Knights Road after World War One, using a generous gratuity from British sources to do so. The gratuity was received for her services during the war. Unfortunately, the building no longer survives.

The house where Marie was born. Dwyer Collection.

Marie Werder was born on 7th February 1880 in Cham, a municipality of the canton of Zug, Switzerland. Her two brothers emigrated to New Zealand and farmed in Taranaki. Marie stayed to care for her father. After the death of her father in 1906, Marie sold the house and farm, emigrated and joined her brothers.

Marie trained as a nurse and joined the nursing staff at Wellington Hospital. At the outbreak of WWI Marie and three other nurses sought to join the NZ Army Nursing Service. Keen to be of assistance she resigned her position as a senior nurse at Wellington Hospital. Her three friends were accepted but Marie was refused. As a non-British subject, Marie was ineligible to join British military services.

However one of the other nurses was the daughter of a government minister who used his influence to ensure Marie got to England. Marie embarked on the NZ troopship ‘Remuera’ January 14th 1915 bound for England where she worked as a civilian nurse in several military hospitals.

Nursing staff of Graylingwell Military Hospital. Dwyer Collection.
Marie seated in the centre of a group of patients. Dwyer Collection.

A letter written by Marie from Graylingwell Military Hospital, Chichester and published in the New Zealand nursing journal Kai Tiaki in July 1915 illustrates well the nurses experience:

“The first patients – 500 in one day – we all worked day and night and I felt tired out. A few days later another convoy arrived and we filled all the beds – 1000 in number. Sloughing and gangrene is very common and still we have marvellous and quick recoveries. The majority of patients are always in good spirits. You should see them when they come in – stretchers are carried along the corridors to different wards like a procession. Some faces are covered with earth and blood, especially the ones who come straight from the trenches.

We are dreadfully under-staffed and there is no possibility of keeping one’s health for a length of time. Several of the nurses have broken down already and others left fearing the same would happen to them also. Our duty hours are 7 am until 8 pm with about 2 hours off in the afternoon. We have only one day off a month – no half days during the week. 

We have several wounded soldiers from NZ who came from the Dardanelles and I am very sorry indeed that I cannot supply them with some kind of newspapers from the Colony. They had a rough time coming over and 50 died of wounds during the passage. Some kind English friends took some of them out in a motor car several times.”

Marie is standing in the back left corner of the ward. Dwyer Collection.

Marie’s last appointment was as Matron of Duston Military Hospital in Northamptonshire. It was here that she was naturalized as a British subject on 11th June and duly took the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown on 15th June 1918.

Kai Tiaki, 1 January 1920. (Papers Past)

According to the Kai Tiaki article above, Marie may have been attested into Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserves). While in England, Marie trained at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London, a premier maternity training hospital.

Returning to New Zealand, Marie bought the private maternity hospital in Lower Hutt and put her training to good use.

At the end of 1925, Marie sold the hospital and went to Sydney and joined the Sisters of Charity, a religious order devoted to nursing care. She took the name Sister Marie Sophie Werder. After a life devoted to caring for the sick, Marie passed away in 1967 and is buried in Sydney.

Obituary for Sister Marie Sophie Werder. Sisters of Charity Congregational Archives.



Thank you to Marie Dwyer, Werder family historian, for information and photographs.

Sisters of Charity Congregational Archives, PO Box 21, Potts Point, NSW, 1335.

In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world in which all women gained the right to vote in general elections. 2018 marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. For more information about the anniversary visit Suffrage 125 on Facebook.

This is part of a series sharing the stories and lives of women who have a connection to Lower Hutt.


  1. Fantastic story; a big thank you to Marie Dwyer for keeping the Werder history alive. Glenys Barker (nee Werder).

  2. Thank you Marie Dwyer for sharing the interesting history of Marie Werder. Val Stringer (nee Werder).

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