Women's Month is the ideal opportunity to reflect on the tremendous strides made by women in education and celebrate an intergenerational legacy of academic achievements. What an honour it is to share the inspiring journeys of four generations of female graduates, with three holding master’s degrees. These stories testify to the power of education, the importance of the empowerment of women and the significant impact women can have on future generations.
The matriarch of this story is great-grandmother Mrs Lena Buitendach (Esterhuizen) who defied societal barriers by pursuing higher education during a particularly challenging time for women. She obtained her bachelor's degree in 1926 at the then Transvaal University College (TUKS), marking the start of a lifelong journey of learning and personal growth. She completed her teaching diploma at the teacher's education college around the same time and her determination and resilience truly set the stage for the intergenerational legacy of education in her family.
The second generation, grandmothers Mrs Marietjie van den Berg (Bloem) and Dr Hannie Schoeman, also completed their higher-education studies at the University of Pretoria. Mrs Van den Berg obtained her honours degree in English Literature and History and Dr Schoeman her PhD in Social Work, after which the University of Pretoria appointed her as a researcher. She pioneered play therapy for social work in South Africa, receiving international recognition for her work. She joined the NWU Faculty of Health Sciences in 2011 and retired in 2014, but at the age of 76 she is still training professionals in social work. Dr Schoeman's success not only solidified her own career but also set a powerful example for her daughter, Prof Retha Bloem, and her future grandchildren.
Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, third-generation graduate Prof Retha Bloem’s career in academia began at the University of Pretoria in 1990, where she later completed her PhD. Embracing the values of education, empowerment and leadership, she realised the importance of carrying the legacy forward to her daughter, Ms Joanette Bloem. Ms Bloem – daughter of Retha, granddaughter of both Marietjie (paternal grandmother) and Hannie (maternal grandmother) and great-granddaughter of Ouma Lena – graduated with a master’s degree in Business Management from the NWU during this Women’s Month.
The legacy represents a spirit of determination and ambition driving women across generations to overcome obstacles and strive for excellence. Five women, four generations of empowerment and an intergenerational legacy in the transference of education, knowledge and empowerment.
During National Women's Month, we honour this journey. We are also reminded that, by valuing and investing in women's education, we pave the way for a brighter future where women continue to carry the torch of knowledge and inspiration, fostering legacies that empower successive generations of women to reach their full potential and make a lasting impact on society.
You educate a woman; you educate a generation. From left: Joanette Bloem, Dr Hannie Schoeman and Prof Retha Bloem. Joanette holds a picture of great-grandmother Lena Buitendach (Esterhuizen) and Prof Retha Bloem holds a picture of her grandmother Marietjie van den Berg.