Pioneering Psychology Professor leaves peaceful parenting legacy

24 April 2023

Three generations of Dr Ritchies
Three generations: Emeritus Professor Jane Ritchie, with her daughter, Dr Jenny Ritchie (right) and granddaughter, Dr Isa Ritchie, at Isa’s graduation day in 2017

The University of Waikato sadly acknowledges the passing of Emeritus Professor Jane Ritchie OBE, at the age of 87.

Professor Ritchie was the first woman to graduate with a PhD in psychology from a New Zealand university. She joined the University of Waikato as a postdoctoral fellow in 1973 and was appointed Professor in 1995.

During her career, she studied child rearing patterns, physical discipline, adolescent development, violence, and eating disorders. Internationally her work on physical punishment triggered a major wave of research into family violence.

Professor Ritchie’s husband, the late Professor James Ritchie, was often her co-author, and they worked together for 30 years, passionately promoting the use of peaceful and effective child rearing techniques over physical punishment, and deepening people’s understanding of how New Zealanders parent.

The couple formed strong links with Māori early in their careers, and Jane’s postdoctoral work on preschool education for tamariki Māori contributed to the development of kōhanga reo.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley says Professor Ritchie also played a key role in the development of women’s studies, with Waikato becoming the first university in New Zealand to offer a course on women and psychology.

“Under Professor Ritchie’s leadership, the programme grew significantly and in particular drew many women to the campus, providing an accessible and supportive pathway into university study.”

Professor Ritchie taught the course for 35 years, alongside programmes on violence in family and society, while raising a family of five and serving many other organisations whose work was relevant to her research.

In 1989 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and in 1993 recognised by the New Zealand Psychological Society as a Pioneer Woman in Psychology in New Zealand. In acknowledgement of her contribution to the University and the wider community, she was conferred the title of Emeritus Professor in 2010.

A service for Jane is being held at the Lady Goodfellow Chapel on the University’s Hamilton campus this afternoon.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to Jane’s family, colleagues, and friends at this time,” said Professor Quigley.

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