Meet the locals – Franc Garstin, Mental Healer and suffragette

Franc Garstin was a woman of strong beliefs; she wanted women to get the vote, to see social equality and she fervently maintained that the power of the mind could heal the ailing flesh. So much so that she set herself up as a mental healer to cure "chronic diseases, mental troubles and perverted habits of the mind and body".

Born Gertrude Garstin at Nelson in 1864, Franc was the daughter of Anthony Garstin and Matilda Dalton. Anthony hailed from County Louth, possibly Braganstown but had spent some time in Liverpool before heading to Sydney. Here he married Matilda Dalton, daughter of Richard Dalton Esq and his ex-convict wife Catherine. 

Gertrude was joined by siblings Eleanor and Horace, and the family settled in Christchurch in around 1876 when Anthony took up the post of Christchurch Station Master. Anthony stayed with railways until his resignation in 1895 when he was described as "not only one of the most courteous but also one of the ablest officers in the New Zealand railway service".

Gertrude, the activist

In 1882 Gertrude sat the Pupil Teacher Examination at Christchurch East School, unfortunately she failed the test scoring only 291 out of a possible 600. 

Despite this, Gertrude clearly felt she had a contribution to make: She served on the Atalanta Cycling Club, opens a new window committee, an all women's cycling club (she had a near escape, opens a new window while cycling along Hereford Street, suffering scratches after colliding with a horse-drawn wagon belonging to the Canterbury Meat Company).

As a member of The Society for Social Ethics (a Socialist Christian movement), she travelled around Southland, Otago and South Canterbury distributing pamphlets called "The Better Way" sharing advice on healthy parenting. 

Gertrude was also a member of the Canterbury Women's Institute, opens a new window and the Women's Christian Temperance Union, opens a new window. She lectured at the Christchurch Metaphysical Club, opens a new window alongside O'Bryen Hoare, a noted early Christchurch Socialist. 

Most significantly Gertrude was a member of the National Council of Women, from its first meeting in 1896. She gave an address in April 1899 on the subject of economic independence for women.

Franc, the Mental Healer

Gertrude morphed into Franc after she became involved with the notorious "Temple of Truth", a short-lived sect led by the charismatic American polygamist Arthur Worthington and his wife Mary Worthington, opens a new window.

Arthur and Mary's "marriage" fell apart in 1893 and Mary went on to found "The New Zealand School of Mental Science". Mary became Sister Magdala, opens a new window and Gertrude became Sister Franc. Mary was a Christian Scientist and had lectured across America on the subject of "healing by faith".

Franc obviously shared many of Mary's beliefs, however in an 1899 interview she stated that mental healing was not the same as Christian Science, opens a new window. Sister Magdala and Sister Franc were very close, travelling to Sydney and living there together for a time. In 1901 Magdala married John Staines Atkinson, a dentist 20 years her junior. Franc was a witness to the wedding at St Paul's Presbyterian.

Later the same year Magdala was found dead in a fountain at her home. Franc, described as a "scientific teacher", gave evidence that Sister Magdala had been of a morbid disposition for some time but that she had never mentioned suicide. She had sat with Mary from 10pm till midnight, and was the last person to see Mary alive. 

In July 1901 Franc sold off her furniture and effects including numerous books and pamphlets. She left New Zealand in August 1901 to go to Chicago. Her intention was to find further opportunities to teach mental healing. 

Franc died, after an operation, in Chicago on 31 January 1902 aged 38. O'Bryen Hoare eulogised her thus "her kindly disposition and vitality had been a great help to many requiring sympathy and encouragement in combating their worries, trials and disappointments in life, opens a new window

She was buried on 3 February 1902 at Rosehill Cemetery, Cook County, Illinois.

Further reading