The Sunlight League: Health Camps, Heliotherapy, and Eugenics in Christchurch

Another Christchurch woman was Cora Wilding who was born into an affluent sporty family. After her brother Anthony was killed in the First World War she trained as one of New Zealand ‘s first physiotherapists in order to work with injured returned soldiers. Overseas in the 1920s she became interested in the New Health Society and the Sunlight League (founded by Sir William Abuthnot Lane and Caleeb Saleeby respectively, both well known in the eugenic discourse). Travelling in Germany and Italy she was impressed by the youth hostels and the emphasis she found on physical culture.41

Back in New Zealand in 1931 she founded the Sunlight League of New Zealand with its aim to ‘work for a healthier New Zealand and the betterment of the race’. The League promoted eugenics, physical fitness, heliotherapy (sunbathing), clean air, smoke abatement (a real problem in Christchurch), dental hygiene, wholesome diet, children’s health camps and youth hostelling. She gave radio talks on these subjects and recruited prominent men to front the organisation. These included the aging Truby King and John Macmillan Brown, the latter an academic and keen eugenist (although, unlike King he promoted the education of women so they could be more skilled wives and mothers.)42

She ran health camps until 1936. The new Labour government wanted to standardise health camps and hers didn’t fit the model, being only for girls of ‘civic worth’, the daughters of the ‘deserving poor’, not the ‘unemployable’ or ‘mentally deficient’. Her girls were taught good citizenship and healthy habits in the hope that they would have a positive influence on the outside world and become good mothers. Her camps were modelled on the culture of ancient Sparta plus the youth culture she had observed in Germany , sprinkled with Maori influences.


Auckland Star, Volume LXII, Issue 113, 15 May 1931, Page 8

AS19310515.2.114-a1-267w-c32-5283-1225-533-53 AS19310515.2.114-a2-403w-c32-5143-1373-806-1390——-10–1—-


Auckland Star, Volume LXIV, Issue 123, 27 May 1933, Page 8



Auckland Star, Volume LXII, Issue 65, 18 March 1931, Page 11


AS19310318.2.154-a2-401w-c32-2677-3581-801-870 AS19310318.2.154-a3-403w-c32-2678-4456-806-648 AS19310318.2.154-a4-400w-c32-2689-5113-800-303 AS19310318.2.154-a6-400w-c32-2691-5771-800-478——-100–1-byDA—2sunlight+league–


Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, Volume LVI, Issue 5854, 5 January 1934, Page 2

AMBPA19340105.2.12-a1-360w-c32-2878-264-719-105 AMBPA19340105.2.12-a2-415w-c32-2828-382-829-1642——-100–1-byDA—2sunlight+league–


Evening Post, Volume CXVII, Issue 111, 12 May 1934, Page 15






EP19340512.2.138-a6-329w-c32-2152-3250-658-341EP19340512.2.138-a7-328w-c32-2152-3601-656-344 EP19340512.2.138-a8-328w-c32-2152-3951-656-381——-100–1-byDA—2sunlight+league–

With thanks the national library of New Zealand

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