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The Divorce Act of 1898 : Equality of Marriage Rights

The Divorce Act of 1898 was a part of the greater women’s equality movement, the Act stemming from campaigns and calls for equality in marriage, divorce and life. The Divorce Act made the grounds for divorce equal across both parties, making divorce more accessible for women in particular.

Prior to the amendment to the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1867, the grounds for divorce were unequally applied across man and wife. For example, husbands could sue for divorce on the grounds of proven adultery by the wife, while the wives had to prove not only adultery, but also cruelty or desertion by the husband to sue for divorce. The Act levelled the playing field in that it allowed both husbands and wives to petition for divorce upon the grounds of adultery. This Act also expanded the grounds for divorce beyond mere adultery to wilful desertion without cause for over five years, being a habitual drunkard for four years or more, cruelty, and attempted murder of the spouse. As said by Brown, the Act “responded to the criticisms of the sexual double standard relating to adultery.”[1]

Titled “For Better, or for Worse”

The allegorical figure of justice holds a rolled up copy of the divorce extension bill while a vicar gainsays her. In the foreground a man drags his wife by the arm. She holds their baby in the other.

Extended Title – Justice – I demand that this unhappy woman be released from her contract. Her husband is making a hideous mockery of her life. The church – No, my dear madam, they are husband and wife, and to part them would be unscriptural.’ Divorce extension bill. Ticket of leave.

New Zealand observer and free lance (Newspaper). Cartoonist unknown :For better, or for worse. New Zealand Observer and Free Lance, Saturday, 14 May 1887 (page 8).. Ref: J-065-026. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22826607

The grounds for desertion could be applied rather liberally at times. One of the first divorce rulings under desertion was the Simons v. Simons case. Dr Simons petitioned the court to grant him a divorce under the grounds of desertion. However, upon closer examination of the case, it was discovered that Mrs Simons had never left her home. She “simply deprived her husband of her society from 8 pm to 8 am.”[2] The court was in favour of granting desertion under this case, as the wife “showed herself determined to no longer be bound by the matrimonial tie, and thus matrimonial life was brought to an end.”[3]

The wheels of change often turn slowly, and in this case, it took thirteen years from the introduction of changing the amending Divorce bill for it to pass through both houses in 1898. “After thirteen years agitation, the legal standard of morality in New Zealand has been made the same for both sexes”[4] This period also saw other innovative legislation passed that affected women’s lives in New Zealand. Women’s Suffrage was passed in 1893, the Industrial Conciliation and the Arbitration Act in 1894 and the introduction of old-age pensions in 1898.

A minister marrying a mature couple who are making vows to themselves, rather than to each other. Refers to an attempt by the Womens’ Political Associations to gain equal rights in marriage for women. Other Titles – The Womens Political Associations of New Zealand have petitioned Parliament in favour of ‘Equality of marriage rights’

Captioned:

The Women’s Political Associations of N.Z. (Chch. and Gisborne) have petitioned Parliment in favour of “Equality of Marriage Rights.”

Both – “we do most solemony swear that we will love, honour, and obey ourselves, etc., etc, till the court doth us part. s’elpme.”

New Zealand Graphic and Ladies’ Journal. Izett, A Pattle, fl 1895 :”We do most solemnly swear that we will love, honour and obey ourselves the court doth part, s’elpme” … New Zealand Graphic, 5 January 1895, page 9.. Various artists :Collection of newspaper clippings, photocopies and bromides of cartoons by Fox (A-313-2), T Ellis – ie Thomas Ellis Glover (A-313-3), J. C. Blomfield (A-313-4) and John McNamara (A-313-11). Also folders of cartoons by various artists published in New Zealand Free Lance (A-313-6), in The Guardian (A-313-7), in Xrays (A-313-8), in the New Zealand Observer (A-313-9), in The Standard (A-313-12) and in various publications (A-313-1).. Ref: A-313-1-007. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23081559

The politician’s Hon John MacGregor, Mr Robert McNab and Robert Stout were massive campaigners of the divorce reform of 1898. In addition, women’s organisations such as The National Council of Women, led by president Amey Daldy with support from vice presidents Marion Hatton, Ada Wells and Kate Sheppard, supported the reform of the Act, as it removed the double standard of the current wording of the law. The ‘White Ribbon’, a publication by the ‘Women’s Christian Temperance Union New Zealand’, also expressed support for the Act. The Gisborne Women’s Political Association circulated a petition in 1894 demanding equality in marriage and divorce. The petition demanded parliament “to alter the law of divorce only in as far as to put the husband and. wife on precisely the same footing as to a. dissolution of the marriage tie.”[5] The petition provided support for the divorce reform of 1898 and signalled a strong call for equality.

New Zealand Graphic and Ladies’ Journal. Cartoonist unknown :Very awkward for the cow. New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Home Journal, 25 August 1894 p. 177.. Various artists :Collection of newspaper clippings, photocopies and bromides of cartoons by Fox (A-313-2), T Ellis – ie Thomas Ellis Glover (A-313-3), J. C. Blomfield (A-313-4) and John McNamara (A-313-11). Also folders of cartoons by various artists published in New Zealand Free Lance (A-313-6), in The Guardian (A-313-7), in Xrays (A-313-8), in the New Zealand Observer (A-313-9), in The Standard (A-313-12) and in various publications (A-313-1).. Ref: A-313-5-003. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23110824

A train labelled ‘Divorce Amendment Act’ driven by the New Zealand premier Richard Seddon, is powering down a railway track labelled commonsense. The primate of the New Zealand Anglican church is standing in protest on the line with a cow labelled ‘church opposition’.

Extended Title – In a very well known story of George Stephenson, the father of the locomotive, it is related that on one occasion he was asked by a noble lord, ‘What, Mr Stephenson, would happen to your locomotives if a cow got on the line?’ …with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Well, ma lord, it wud be vara awkward for the cow.’

As with all significant changes, there was also opposition to counter the support. For example, the Anglican Church opposed the Divorce Act. After the Act passed, the Anglican church refused to remarry any divorced person during the lifetime of their previous spouse. The divorce bill was a feature part of the women’s equality movement. It gave women further mobility and equality. The bill reflected growing calls and support for women’s equality and the strength groups such as the ‘national council of women’, the temperance union, and other women’s political organisations.


Emma Lyes
Emma Lyes

I’m Emma, a book-devouring, history-loving feminist who got involved with WHNZ when I was looking for a volunteering opportunity. WHNZ seemed like the perfect fit for me and I loved the idea of being able to research and write about women in New Zealand’s history. Too often history is recorded solely from the point of view of men and I’m proud to be a part of a team that has decided to correct that oversight.

Recommended Further Reading:

Archives New Zealand. “Divorce Laws in New Zealand” Accessed July 17, 2021. https://archives.govt.nz/search-the-archive/researching/research-guides/identity/life-events


Brown, Hayley Marina. 2011. “Loosening the Marriage Bond: Divorce in New Zealand, c.1890s – c.1950s” PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington. https://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/handle/10063/1768?show=full


“The New Divorce Law” White Ribbon, October 1, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/periodicals/WHIRIB18981001.2.8


“EQUALITY OF THE SEXES DEMANDED” Clutha Leader, December 21, 1894. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CL18941221.2.10

Bibliography:

Archives New Zealand. “Divorce Laws in New Zealand” Accessed July 17, 2021. https://archives.govt.nz/search-the-archive/researching/research-guides/identity/life-events


Benjamin, Ethel R. “THE INEQUALITIES OF THE LAW REGARDING MEN AND WOMEN.” Evening Star, April 30, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18980430.2.39.26


Brown, Hayley Marina. 2011. “Loosening the Marriage Bond: Divorce in New Zealand, c.1890s – c.1950s” PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington. https://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/handle/10063/1768?show=full


Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 2018. “Women and the vote” Accessed July 17, 2021. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/national-council-of-women


“National Women’s Council” New Zealand Times, April 26, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTIM18980426.2.10


“The New Divorce Law” Otago Daily Times, October 13, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18981013.2.15


“The New Divorce Law” The Press, October 7, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CHP18981007.2.17


New Zealand Acts as Enacted. “Divorce Act 1898 (62 VICT 1898 No 42)” Accessed July 17, 2021. http://www.nzlii.org/nz/legis/hist_act/da189862v1898n42167


“The New Divorce Law” White Ribbon, October 1, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/periodicals/WHIRIB18981001.2.8


“EQUALITY OF THE SEXES DEMANDED” Clutha Leader, December 21, 1894. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CL18941221.2.10

Reference List:

[1] Brown, Hayley Marina. 2011. “Loosening the Marriage Bond: Divorce in New Zealand, c.1890s – c.1950s” PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington. https://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/handle/10063/1768?show=full


[2] “The New Divorce Law” Otago Daily Times, October 13, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18981013.2.15


[3]  “The New Divorce Law” Otago Daily Times, October 13, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18981013.2.15


[4] “The New Divorce Law” White Ribbon, October 1, 1898. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/periodicals/WHIRIB18981001.2.8


[5] “EQUALITY OF THE SEXES DEMANDED” Clutha Leader, December 21, 1894. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CL18941221.2.10

Image Bibliography:

Image 1: “The Proposed Amendments to the Divorce Law. ‘whoso god has joined together let no man put asunder”

New Zealand observer and free lance (Newspaper). Cartoonist unknown :The Proposed Amendments to the Divorce Law. New Zealand Observer and Free Lance, Saturday, 25th August 1894 (page 7). Paperspast https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TO1894082


Image 2: “For Better, or for Worse”

New Zealand observer and free lance (Newspaper). Cartoonist unknown :For better, or for worse. New Zealand Observer and Free Lance, Saturday, 14 May 1887 (page 8).. Ref: J-065-026. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22826607


Image 3: “The Womens Political Associations of New Zealand have petitioned Parliament in favour of ‘Equality of marriage rights”

New Zealand Graphic and Ladies’ Journal. Izett, A Pattle, fl 1895 :”We do most solemnly swear that we will love, honour and obey ourselvesl the court doth part, s’elpme” … New Zealand Graphic, 5 January 1895, page 9.. Various artists :Collection of newspaper clippings, photocopies and bromides of cartoons by Fox (A-313-2), T Ellis – ie Thomas Ellis Glover (A-313-3), J. C. Blomfield (A-313-4) and John McNamara (A-313-11). Also folders of cartoons by various artists published in New Zealand Free Lance (A-313-6), in The Guardian (A-313-7), in Xrays (A-313-8), in the New Zealand Observer (A-313-9), in The Standard (A-313-12) and in various publications (A-313-1).. Ref: A-313-1-007. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23081559


Image 4: “Divorce Amendment Act”

New Zealand Graphic and Ladies’ Journal. Cartoonist unknown :Very awkward for the cow. New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Home Journal, 25 August 1894 p. 177.. Various artists :Collection of newspaper clippings, photocopies and bromides of cartoons by Fox (A-313-2), T Ellis – ie Thomas Ellis Glover (A-313-3), J. C. Blomfield (A-313-4) and John McNamara (A-313-11). Also folders of cartoons by various artists published in New Zealand Free Lance (A-313-6), in The Guardian (A-313-7), in Xrays (A-313-8), in the New Zealand Observer (A-313-9), in The Standard (A-313-12) and in various publications (A-313-1).. Ref: A-313-5-003. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23110824

Published: December 7th, 2021

Last modified: December 7th, 2021

Cite as: Emma Lyes, “The Divorce Act of 1898 : Equality of marriage rights”, Womens History of New Zealand, Last modified December 2021, https://womenshistorynz.com/the-divorce-act-of-1898–equality-of-marriage-rights/

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A Look at Early New Zealand : Victorian values

A Brief overview of early Victorian New Zealand

The Victorian period was a time of massive change in New Zealand. People were traveling to make New Zealand, to settle in the colonies. This was a time of bringing old values and culture to a new land. For Māori the Victorian period introduced a forced change to ways of life. The main theme of this era was adapting – adapting to a land, to others, to a new life, to new governance. The Victoria era matches the reign of Queen Victoria in England, from 1827 to 1901.

This period marks a huge increase of immigrants arriving to New Zealand from a range of countries, such as Italy, Scandinavia, Germany and Australia. Despite the range of nationalities, 90% of these were born Irish and British.[1] The reasons why people would chose to endure such a long and dangerous journey are varied. The journey by sea (from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) took 100 days in cramped conditions, with travellers enduring rough seas and illness.[2] For some, it was the promise of land and the potential to find gold during the boom around 1861[3]. For others it was to aid in war, such as that in 1860. From 1871, the New Zealand government increased the attraction of such a move by offering assistance, such as cheap tickets or fares to travel to the country, or the promise of free land.

Procession celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Trafalgar Street, Nelson.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22805469

Many immigrants from Europe had rural backgrounds, having worked in agriculture or building roles. Because of this, it’s thought that they will have seen New Zealand as an opportunity to be more independent by living off the land. People who arrived wanted to find somewhere to settle and build a new life rather than move on. Immigrants had been encouraged to bring musical instruments for the journey, of which many did. It led to a varied taste for music in New Zealand; from classical favourites to ballads and songs which reflected feelings of nostalgia for the country left behind, or patriotism for their new home. During this time, styles of dance varied, as did the social status of the dancers – this was just to make up numbers at these events. Opera, choral groups and later brass bands became a part of the entertainment landscape also.[4] Some of the British culture was brought across with the new settlers. At the end of the century the influence showed through the playing of rugby, cricket and in the history and literature that was taught to students.[5]

Group portrait of a Wanganui brass band.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23009666

Values were largely centered around the community. Many people practised both Māori and Christian religious activities. The focus of the community was the marae – for song, hospitality, haka and other activities. Few young people would go on to do secondary education and would spend their time at the cinema, dances or youth clubs, while Saturdays were spent playing tennis, hockey and rugby.[6] Māori and Pākēha people would unite to compete in a variety of sports. Horse Racing was the first favourite, until popularity for rugby soared.[7] In 1888 – 1889, teams (which included mostly – but not exclusively – Māori) toured England, Australia and New Zealand to represent their country in rugby.

The settlers women’s roles during this time were domestic – the attitudes towards the settler women were that they be providers in the home; servants, wives, mothers and nurtures that would work behind the scenes while the men openly handled other matters like trade. English common law meant that the husband or father was the head of the family, leaving the woman with little rights – even over property or her own children. Even through education, girls were taught to sew, cook and look after babies to shape them for their duties in adulthood. This helped towards the idea that a strong New Zealand consisted of women remaining as the homemakers while the men went out to work.[8]

Unidentified family group.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23186763

This had detrimental effects for Māori women, whose beliefs with powerful female influences were diluted and retold by Pāhēka men with a shift towards male characters. While men and women had once been equal to provide for the whanau, and women being able to work on the farm and help in family businesses, this would be interfered with. Immigrant ideals of the male as the head of the household would taint and take over this equality. The immigrant attitudes also coloured attitudes towards Māori women, believing them to belong to their husband. They were also seen as potential bedmates but also as a source of economic security. Marriage was another custom to be affected for the Māori population, which merged with the legal framework and ceremony known to the settlers.[9]

However, these traditional settler attitudes were brought into question with the suffrage movement in the 1890s, which led to New Zealand to be the first self-governing country to grant women the vote. Although women would still have a long journey ahead to achieve political equality, it was a strong start. Overall, the Victorian period must have been a mixed experience in New Zealand. For the Māori community these changes would change their lives and typical routines, as trade options changed. As immigrants arrived, aspects of their lives were threatened such as land ownership – leading to wars and hostilities. For the settlers, the period will have been marked by hope for a new home and a new life, but also tinged with the sadness of a home they had left behind.


Lisa Cooke
Lisa Cooke

Women’s history is important to me as it shapes our culture and our future. It teaches us to be grateful for the progress that has been made, but also not to be complacent as we strive for better equality (for all people). I love writing and researching and Women’s History NZ has given me an outlet to be creative and learn more about the world. 

Recommended Further Reading

Mark Derby, ‘Daily life in Māori communities – te noho a te hapori – Changes in daily life after European arrival’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/daily-life-in-maori-communities-te-noho-a-te-hapori/page-2 (accessed 5 September 2021)


Coney, Sandra. 1993. Standing in the Sunshine: A History of New Zealand Women since they Won the Vote. Auckland, N.Z: Penguin.


‘Summary’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/immigration/home-away-from-home/summary, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-Dec-2014, (accessed 5 September 2021)


Brookes, Barbara L. 2016. A History of New Zealand Women. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books.

Bibliography:

‘Summary’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/immigration/home-away-from-home/summary, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-Dec-2014, (accessed 5 September 2021)


Jock Phillips, ‘History of immigration’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/history-of-immigration (accessed 5 September 2021)


Chris Bourke, ‘Popular music – Early settlers, 18th and early 19th centuries’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/popular-music/page-2 (accessed 5 September 2021)


‘Conclusions’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/home-away-from-home/conclusions, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 9-Dec-2014 (accessed 5 September 2021)


Mark Derby, ‘Daily life in Māori communities – te noho a te hapori – Changes in daily life after European arrival’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/daily-life-in-maori-communities-te-noho-a-te-hapori/page-2 (accessed 5 September 2021)


Mark Derby, ‘Māori–Pākehā relations – Sport and race’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/maori-pakeha-relations/page-4 (accessed 5 September 2021)


Annie Mikaere, ‘MAORI WOMEN: CAUGHT IN THE CONTRADICTIONS OF A COLONISED REALITY’, The University of Waikato, https://www.waikato.ac.nz/law/research/waikato_law_review/pubs/volume_2_1994/7 (accessed 5 September 2021)


Ian Pool and Rosemary Du Plessis, ‘Families: a history’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/families-a-history/print (accessed 5 September 2021)


Unidentified family group. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-017172-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23186763

Reference List:

[1] ‘Summary’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/immigration/home-away-from-home/summary, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-Dec-2014, (accessed 5 September 2021)


[2] Jock Phillips, ‘History of immigration’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/history-of-immigration (accessed 5 September 2021)


[3] ‘Summary’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/immigration/home-away-from-home/summary, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-Dec-2014, (accessed 5 September 2021)


[4] Chris Bourke, ‘Popular music – Early settlers, 18th and early 19th centuries’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/popular-music/page-2 (accessed 5 September 2021)


[5] ‘Conclusions’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/home-away-from-home/conclusions, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 9-Dec-2014 (accessed 5 September 2021)


[6] Mark Derby, ‘Daily life in Māori communities – te noho a te hapori – Changes in daily life after European arrival’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/daily-life-in-maori-communities-te-noho-a-te-hapori/page-2 (accessed 5 September 2021)


[7] Mark Derby, ‘Māori–Pākehā relations – Sport and race’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/maori-pakeha-relations/page-4 (accessed 5 September 2021)


[8]  Annie Mikaere, ‘Māori women: caught in the contradictions of a colonised reality’, The University of Waikato, https://www.waikato.ac.nz/law/research/waikato_law_review/pubs/volume_2_1994/7 (accessed 5 September 2021)


[9] Ian Pool and Rosemary Du Plessis, ‘Families: a history’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/families-a-history/print (accessed 5 September 2021)

Image Bibliography:

Image 1:

Shows head and shoulders portrait of fifty members of the Royal family, including Queen Victoria in the centre, and her late husband Prince Albert.

Blundell Brothers Ltd. [The Royal family]. Jubilee supplement to the Evening Post, Wellington, Saturday June 18, 1887. Published by Blundell Bros.. Ref: Eph-D-ROYAL-1887-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22895715


Image 2:

Procession celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Trafalgar Street, Nelson

Procession celebrating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Trafalgar Street, Nelson. Tyree Studio: Negatives of Nelson and Marlborough districts. Ref: 10X8-0194-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22805469


Image 3:

Group portrait of a Wanganui brass band

Group portrait of a Wanganui brass band. Ref: 1/2-011756-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23009666


Image 4:

Unidentified family group

Unidentified family group. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district. Ref: 1/4-017172-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23186763

Published: November 5th, 2021

Last modified: November 5th, 2021

Cite as: Lisa Cooke, “A Look at Early New Zealand : Victorian values”, Womens History of New Zealand, Last modified November 2021, https://atomic-temporary-193744190.wpcomstaging.com/camellia-flowers-symbolism-suffrage-new-zealand/

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The National Council of Women

The National Council of Women, formed in 1896 and striving for gender equality ever since

Article Tags

1896 – 1906:

The National Council of Women New Zealand (most commonly know as the NCW) was formed on  13 April 1896, as a result of the International Council of Women’s (ICW) proposal for the establishment of a New Zealand branch of the organisation. The council’s first meeting took place in Ōtautahi (Christchurch) and was organised by founding members Kate Sheppard, Marion Hatton and Ada Wells. It gathered around 25 representatives from 11 women’s groups[1] across New Zealand and soon elected Sheppard as its president.

The minutes from the first NCW meeting outline its  mission: ‘[to] unite all organised Societies of Women for mutual counsel and co-operation, and in the attainment of justice and freedom for women, and for all that makes for the good of humanity.[2] This mission would set the basis for what the NCW would do for the next  10 years.

The NCW quickly became an active part of New Zealand society, conducting campaigns it thought would introduce a more moral way of life. Some of  its first initiatives focused on:

  • increasing the legal age for a woman’s consent to sexual intercourse to 21
  • including women on boards and councils
  • strictly enforcing laws concerning liquor
  • establishing homes for alcoholics

The council was also particularly interested in education, asking for schools to provide free and longer education, to support those who were disadvantaged, and to provide knowledge on the effect of alcoholic consumption on the body. A large number of council members were teachers which also encouraged acknowledgement of the NCW and its efforts to reduce the gender wage gap.

The council’s values were largely based around family and the power of women’s domesticity. As recorded by H.K Lovell Smith[3], the NCW desired:  ‘to bring the woman spirit and the home atmosphere into the affairs as well of the State as of the parish.’[4] The NCW  was able to gain society’s approval through its family values, as they fit society’s ideals of moralistic femininity.

Image 2 of Kate Sheppard: International Women’s Day, 8 March – Kate Sheppard. (2021). Retrieved 1 August 2021, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/16008456223

But when the council turned these values into actions, people began to develop a more critical opinion of the group. For example, the NCW fought for gender equality in marriage. It campaigned for equal rights in divorce for both sexes, abolishing the ‘doctrine of ‘possession’, establishing the economic independence of married women through ‘a law attaching a just share of her husband’s earnings or income for her separate use’, and making the conditions of divorce for men and women equal.’[5] These suggestions were seen as controversial and received a negative reaction from the public.

Although the NCW sought to create a society where women were equal,  its membership did not conform to these ideals. The NCW could be considered Classist in the way it maintained a significant middle-class membership. It was not inclusive of all women, yet it claimed to represent all women and ‘the moral good’.

As a result of the council’s exclusive, unjust attitude and misrepresentation of its cause, member Anna Stout decided to resign from the council in 1897. Stout held strong connections to government circles and her absence contributed to the decline in the success of the NCW’s activism and its consequent loss of support. This, as well as the public dislike for its discussion of radical topics, greatly contributed to the council’s going into recess in 1906.

1916-recent:

World War I saw an increase of women in the workforce and related issues that members of the NCW thought should be addressed. This inspired efforts to revive the council by Kate Sheppard, writer Jessie Mackay, and NCW secretary Christina Henderson, who set up an NCW reconvention in 1918.

In 1919, a meeting was held. It outlined the general goals of the reformed council in a  keynote address prepared by Sheppard and presented to  10 delegates of the NCW by lawyer Ellen Melville. This was publicised through print and widely distributed, and the NCW was once again active in New Zealand. Some of the revived council’s initial achievements included the establishment of a Wellington Intelligence Committee and the demand for the appointment of women as Justices of the Peace, jurors, and police.

By 1956, during the second wave of feminism, NCW members were keen debaters on the topic of family planning and young people’s access to contraceptives outside of marriage. The council actively participated in initiatives for equal pay, fair employment opportunities, and the Government Service Equal Pay Act of 1960 and the Equal Pay Act of 1972.

By the 1990s, during the third wave of feminism, the NCW began to develop more initiatives on women’s health, supporting women who had come out of a de facto relationship and addressing violence in society. The 1990s brought about a change in the way young girls were educated in schools: The NCW  was previously supportive of teaching girls domestic subjects but began pushing the idea that girls should be taught male-dominated subjects such as science and mathematics, as well as teaching domestic subjects to both genders alike. The NCW stepping away from the idea that women were inherently moral and domestic, as previous councils had thought.

Vanisa Dhiru. (2021). Retrieved 1 August 2021, from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/vanisa-dhiru

The NCW is still an active part of New Zealand society and is run with six representatives of a board and a current president, being Suzanne Manning, elected June 2021.

Although it has been working toward equal rights since its beginnings in 1896, the council now represents modern thought, a more feminist kind of activism and is inclusive of many more groups and ideas. Today the council focuses on four key areas: safety and health, economic independence, education, and influence and decision-making. Recently, Lisa Lawrence (Ngati Kahungunu) became the council’s first ever Maori president and was elected in 2020. 

These values and displays of diversity  are a contrast from the largely family orientated and selective council that the NCW  once was.“[We want to make] sure that any person of any race, any class or creed doesn’t have anything against them in terms of being female or male…New Zealand needs to wake up to the fact that it doesn’t matter what you look like, you can do and be what you want to be.”[6]  said Vanisa Dhiru, a former president of the NCW.


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Izzy France
Izzy France

Hi I’m Izzy! I am a student and feminist enthusiastic about changing society for the better by creating a more inclusive and equal New Zealand. I have a passion for the past and working with WHNZ has given me the opportunity to pursue my interest in New Zealand women’s history and share it with others! – Izzy

Bibliography

Image Reference

  1. Image 1 of the first NCW meeting: File: National Council of Women (13587153825).jpg – Wikimedia Commons. (2014). Retrieved 1 August 2021, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:National_Council_of_Women_(13587153825).jpg
  1. Image 2 of Kate Sheppard: International Women’s Day, 8 March – Kate Sheppard. (2021). Retrieved 1 August 2021, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/16008456223
  1. Image 3 of Vanisa Dhuru on ‘gender equal’ campaign: Vanisa Dhiru. (2021). Retrieved 1 August 2021, from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/vanisa-dhiru

References

[1] Statistics from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/women-together/national-council-women-new-zealand

[2] (2021). Retrieved 28 July 2021, from http://www.nzjh.auckland.ac.nz/docs/1993/NZJH_27_2_04.pdf

[3] The National Council of the Women of New Zealand, 1901, Wanganui, 1901, p.28, 1902. Gisborne, 1902, p.26, H.K.. Lovell-Smith Papers, 1376/3, 4. WTU.

[4] )2021). Retrieved 28 July 2021, from http://www.nzjh.auckland.ac.nz/docs/1993/NZJH_27_2_04.pdf

[5] National Council of Women of New Zealand | NZHistory, New Zealand history online. (1896). Retrieved 28 July 2021, from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/women-together/national-council-women-new-zealand

[6] Vanisa Dhiru. (2021). Retrieved 1 August 2021, from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/vanisa-dhiru

Categories
Izzy France

Elizabeth Yates

“I think women are quite as well able to legislate as men…”

– Elizabeth Yates.[1]

Elizabeth Yates was the first female mayor in New Zealand and the British empire. She helped pave the way to gender equality and spent her life fighting for what she believed in. Elizabeth was born in Scotland around 1840-1848 [2]. She immigrated with her family to Auckland in 1853 when she was around 8 years old[3], later settling in Onehunga. In 1875 she married mariner Michael Yates, who would serve as mayor of Onehunga from 1888 – 1892. Soon after their wedding Elizabeth became involved in Auckland’s political community. She became a member of the Auckland union parliament emerging as a skilled debater, passionate about women’s suffrage.

Following her husband’s illness and subsequent retirement Elizabeth was nominated in 1893 for the Onehunga mayoralty. Friends strongly encouraged her to go for the role, recognizing her ability [4]. As a ratepayer and property holder she could compete and vote in local body elections, at a time where women still couldn’t in parliamentary elections [5]. She went on to win the election by 13 votes against her opponent, Frederick Court, on the 29th of November and became the first female mayor of New Zealand and the British Empire [6]. Elizabeth was appointed mayor just three months after women won the right to vote. Despite legal change, societal change was still yet to come. Her authority and ability to act as mayor was challenged, as some were still hesitant toward the newfound roles and rights women held.

Cartoon of Elizabeth as mayor. By Ashley Hunter cartoon, New Zealand Graphic, 7 April 1894, p. 324.
Elizabeth Yates. (2021). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/elizabeth-yates-first-female-mayor

Her position caused uproar. Four councilors and the town clerk resigned in protest of Elizabeth’s election. Her proposals were often met with unreasonably strong opposition, mainly from the same few councilors. [7] Some of the general public shared a similar sentiment, believing that council was not a place for a women. Elizabeth was seen as ‘dictatorial’ and having a ‘disregard for rules’[8]. These qualities may of contributed to opposition she faced, often being used as an excuse for challenging her. But maybe these qualities helped her navigate the continuous sexist opposition she faced, or were simply an excuse for challenging her.

Crowds would sometimes gather in the court, interrupting by shouting abuse during the proceedings. During one meeting, the mayoress decided to call the police to clear the crowd that had gathered, famously claiming that she “would not have the council burlesqued.” [9]. While some came to harass her, others came to marvel at the empires ‘first lady mayor’. They came from all over, even some from Australia [10]. She was seen as something between a miracle and a sideshow act, as well as a capable mayoress.

Photograph of the signed agreement for justice of the peace, swearing allegiance to Queen Victoria.
 Elizabeth Yates elected Mayor of Onehunga. (2021). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/49594021096
Photograph of the signed agreement for justice of the peace, swearing allegiance to Queen Victoria.
 Elizabeth Yates elected Mayor of Onehunga. (2021). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/49594021096

Despite opposition, Elizabeth continued to fulfill her duties as mayor. Having been widely acknowledged as a rarity, Elizabeth’s position as mayor had also attracted the attention of Queen Victoria, who congratulated her after her election [11] .

Other members of the public also supported her, in a letter to the editor a member of the public said “Women’s enfranchisement proceeds apace. Early this morning I read of the election of the new mayor of Onehunga, Mrs. Elizabeth Yates! She defeated a male candidate. If we Britishers have a queen, why not a lady mayor?”[12].

One volume of the Auckland Star in 1893 stated that “No doubt the ladies will feel proud that one of their sisters is now the chief magistrate of an important town.” The paper also felt that Mrs Yates was a great parliamentarian. [13].

Elizabeth was outvoted in the 1894 election by 90 votes. She didn’t return to politics again until 1899, where she served in the Onehunga borough council for two years. During this time she challenged the new mayor’s somewhat corrupt decisions. On one occasion, Elizabeth addressed the mayor’s disregard toward the proper protocol when appointing new councilors and his illegal use of council funds, ordering him to repay the money [14]. Michael Yates died in 1902. Then in 1909, Elizabeth was admitted to the Auckland Mental Hospital. She died their on the 6th of September, 1918. [15] and was buried with her husband.

During her lifetime Elizabeth improved Onehunga substantially making massive achievement in her time as a mayor. Just to mention a few she created a sinking fund to deal with future challenges concerning funding and repayment, She settled the region’s debt, made infrastructure upgrades including roads, footpaths and sewage and restored the Waikaraka Cemetery, a decisive and important issue in the community. Elizabeth left leaving a lasting impression on the political environment of both Auckland and New Zealand as its first female mayoress. Her legacy would go on to affect the view on women in politics and their growing equality in society.


Izzy France
Izzy France

Hi I’m Izzy! I am a student and feminist enthusiastic about changing society for the better by creating a more inclusive and equal New Zealand. I have a passion for the past and working with WHNZ has given me the opportunity to pursue my interest in New Zealand women’s history and share it with others! – Izzy

Recommended Further Reading:
Bibliography:
Reference list:

[1] Choice – Women in 19th Century Aotearoa. (2021). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/discover/stories/history/choice-women-in-19th-century-aotearoa

[2] Yates, Elizabeth. (2021). Retrieved 16 July 2021, from https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2y1/yates-elizabeth

[3] Elizabeth Yates – First Woman Mayor in the British Empire. (2015). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/nz-society/audio/201757061/elizabeth-yates-first-woman-mayor-in-the-british-empire

[4] YATES-Elizabeth.pdf (graveinsightsonehunga.nz) https://www.graveinsightsonehunga.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/YATES-Elizabeth.pdf

[5] YATES-Elizabeth.pdf (graveinsightsonehunga.nz) https://www.graveinsightsonehunga.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/YATES-Elizabeth.pdf

[6] Elizabeth Yates – First Woman Mayor in the British Empire. (2015). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/nz-society/audio/201757061/elizabeth-yates-first-woman-mayor-in-the-british-empire

[7] Yates, Elizabeth. (2021). Retrieved 16 July 2021, from https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2y1/yates-elizabeth

[8] Engel, K. (2012). Elizabeth Yates, the British Empire’s first female mayor | Amazing Women In History. Retrieved 4 August 2021, from https://amazingwomeninhistory.com/elizabeth-yates-the-british-empires-first-female-mayor/

[9] Elizabeth Yates – First Woman Mayor in the British Empire. (2015). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/nz-society/audio/201757061/elizabeth-yates-first-woman-mayor-in-the-british-empire

[10] Elizabeth Yates – First Woman Mayor in the British Empire. (2015). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/nz-society/audio/201757061/elizabeth-yates-first-woman-mayor-in-the-british-empire

[11] Elizabeth Yates | NZHistory, New Zealand history online. (1893). Retrieved 16 July 2021, from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/elizabeth-yates

[12] Engel, K. (2012). Elizabeth Yates, the British Empire’s first female mayor | Amazing Women In History. Retrieved 4 August 2021, from https://amazingwomeninhistory.com/elizabeth-yates-the-british-empires-first-female-mayor/

[13] Papers Past | Newspapers | Auckland Star | 30 November 1893 | MAYORAL ELECTIONS. (natlib.govt.nz) https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AS18931130.2.139?items_per_page=10&page=2&query=Elizabeth+Yates&snippet=true

[14] Elizabeth Yates – First Woman Mayor in the British Empire. (2015). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/nz-society/audio/201757061/elizabeth-yates-first-woman-mayor-in-the-british-empire

[15] Elizabeth Yates – First Woman Mayor in the British Empire. (2015). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/nz-society/audio/201757061/elizabeth-yates-first-woman-mayor-in-the-british-empire

Image Bibliography:
  1. Photograph of Elizabeth. Elizabeth Yates, Mayor of Onehunga, 1894. (2021). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/27551199038  (permitted for use under the creative commons license)
  1. Cartoon of Elizabeth as mayor. By Ashley Hunter cartoon, New Zealand Graphic, 7 April 1894, p. 324. Elizabeth Yates. (2021). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/elizabeth-yates-first-female-mayor
  1. Photograph of the signed agreement for justice of the peace, swearing allegiance to Queen Victoria. Elizabeth Yates elected Mayor of Onehunga. (2021). Retrieved 20 July 2021, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/49594021096 (permitted for use under the creative commons license)

Published: August 5th, 2021

Last modified: November 5th, 2021

Cite as: Izzy France, “Elizabeth Yates”, Womens History of New Zealand, Last modified November 2021, https://atomic-temporary-193744190.wpcomstaging.com/elizabeth-yates-first-woman-mayoress-new-zealand/

Categories
Tim Mcvicar

Camellia Flowers and The Battle of the Buttonholes

Two ideologies, two colours, one flower: how different Camellias represented opposite sides of the suffragette movement.

The evergreen Camellia shrub was cultivated in parts of China and Japan before being transplanted via mercantile ships into the gardens of Europe. Greenfingered settlers brought the plant with them as they attempted to recreate the bright domestic gardens of British upper-middle-class homes in the colonial wilderness of New Zealand. The Camellia flourished in the complementary climate.  In the early 1890s, as women were agitating for the right to vote in New Zealand elections, two varieties of the plant, the white flower (Camellia japonica alba plena)  and the red flower (possibly a similar variety of Camellia Japonica)  became unlikely symbols of the ideological differences between the suffragists (‘suffragettes’) and their detractors. 

The ‘Battle of the Buttonholes’, as it was named by the media at the time, began when Kate Sheppard, leader of the Women’s Temperance Union, used the pure white flower of the ‘alba plena’ as a symbol of support for electoral reform.[1] On the 12th of September 1893, the all-male members of parliament entered parliament to vote on a reform of the Electoral Act which would allow most women the right to vote. Sheppard and other suffragists gave members that supported the Bill the white flower tied with a ribbon to attach to their buttonholes, the shrub would have been in full springtime bloom at this time. The flower was both an acknowledgement of their support as well as a public declaration of the need for change.[2]

’Kate Sheppard’ Camellias planted at Parliament in 1993

The vote passed 20/18, thanks to two members who changed their vote in response to the meddling of then Prime Minister Richard Seddon who was against the Bill.  Weeks of protest followed, sponsored by liquor industries worried that allowing the voting rights to include Christian Temperance women would curtail the sale of alcohol in the colony.[3] During these protests, women who were against the reform gave a basket of red Camellia flowers to a member of parliament.  He distributed these amongst parliamentary supporters of petitions to make the Governor reject the Bill. [4] The red perhaps signifying the passion with which the Bill should be rejected; akin to a visual blood on your hand’s statement. The Act was passed, and the white Camellia carried the symbolic legacy of the first sovereign country to allow all women over the age of 21 the right to vote. The inclusion did not extend to women of Asian descent, who remained like males of Asian descent official personae non-gratae. Ironic given the ancestry of the Camellia itself.

Ministry of Women used the white Camellia to celebrate the 125th anniversary

There were many plantings of white Camellias in 1993 to celebrate the centenary of the passing of the Act on the 19th of September 1893. A Taranaki breeder, named Viv Joyce, developed and released a large double bloom white Camellia to mark the occasion.[5] Christened the ‘Kate Sheppard’ the breed was planted in many public and private gardens throughout the country.

In 2018, the Ministry of Women developed a logo using the White Camellia flower to mark 125 years since the passing of the Act and encouraged the logo’s distribution by people and organisations wanting to mark the occasion.  Further plantings of white Camellia’s occurred at this time.[6],[7]

Tim McVicar
Tim McVicar

Tim McVicar is a Te Tai Tokerau based content writer and researcher who has lived and worked in the Republic of Georgia, Sudan and Palestine. He holds an MA from Victoria University of Wellington and a Master of Teaching and Educational Leadership from the Mind lab…

Recommended Further Reading:

Ministry for Culture and Heritage, “Brief history”,Women and the vote, updated 21-Sep-2021, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/brief-history


Ministry of Women, “A symbol for Suffrage 125”, https://women.govt.nz, Last modified Feb 2018, https://women.govt.nz/about/new-zealand-women/history/suffrage-125/symbol-suffrage-125

Bibliography:

SunLive, “Are We There Yet? An Evening with Jan Tinetti”, SunLive, September 2018, https://www.sunlive.co.nz/news/189089-are-we-there-yet-an-evening-jan-tinetti.html?post=189089-are-we-there-yet-an-evening-jan-tinetti.html


Ministry for Culture and Heritage, “Brief history”,Women and the vote, updated 21-Sep-2021, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/brief-history


New Zealand Parliament, “Suffrage Day celebrates women’s right to vote”, http://www.parliament.nz, September 2012, https://www.parliament.nz/en/get-involved/features-pre-2016/document/00NZPHomeNews201209181/suffrage-day-celebrates-women-s-right-to-vote


Northen Advocate, “Zonta donates white camellias for Whangārei park for Women’s Suffrage Day”, Northen Advocate, September 2018, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/northern-advocate/news/zonta-donates-white-camellias-for-whangarei-park-for-womens-suffrage-day/CXOILCD7LW4NPQXI7AXPOHW4PQ/


University of Otago, “Camellia planted on campus for Suffrage 125”, http://www.otago.ac.nz, September 2018, https://www.otago.ac.nz/otagobulletin/news/otago696103.html


Ministry of Women, “A symbol for Suffrage 125”, https://women.govt.nz, Last modified Feb 2018, https://women.govt.nz/about/new-zealand-women/history/suffrage-125/symbol-suffrage-125

Reference List:

[1] Tinetti, Jan.(2018) Are We There Yet? An Evening with Jan Tinetti Sunlive:The Bay’s News First. Retrieved 17/06/2021

[2] Tinetti, Jan.(2018) Are We There Yet? An Evening with Jan Tinetti Sunlive:The Bay’s News First. Retrieved 17/06/2021

[3] Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2018) Women and the Vote: Brief History. New Zealand History. Retrieved 17/06/2021

[4] New Zealand Parliament (2012) Suffrage Day Celebrates Women’s Right to Vote.Retrieved 17/06/2021

[5] Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2018) Women and the Vote: Brief History. New Zealand History. Retrieved 17/06/2021

[6] Northern Advocate (2018) Zonta Donates White Camellias for Whangārei Park for Women’s Suffrage Day. Retrieved 18/06/2021

[7] Otago University Bulletin (2018)  Camellia Planted on Campus for Suffrage 125. Retrieved 18/06/2021

Image Bibliography:

White Camellia at Kate Sheppard National Memorial. Women’s Suffrage Day is also known as White Camellia Day, as during the campaign for women’s suffrage, those who supported the 1893 Electoral Bill were presented with a white camellia to wear in their buttonhole.

http://canterburystories.nz/collections/community/out-and-about/ccl-cs-24923


Kate Sheppard’ Camellias planted at Parliament in 1993 to celebrate the 100th  anniversary of women getting the vote. Photo source: Parliamentary services. New Zealand Parliament (2012) Suffrage Day Celebrates Women’s Right to Vote. Retrieved 17/06/2021

https://www.parliament.nz/en/get-involved/features-pre-2016/document/00NZPHomeNews201209181/suffrage-day-celebrates-women-s-right-to-vote


The design by the Ministry of Women used the white Camellia to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the right for women to vote. Photo source: Ministry of Women Ministry for Women (2018) A symbol for suffrage 125 Retrieved 17/06/2021

https://women.govt.nz/about/new-zealand-women/history/suffrage-125/symbol-suffrage-125

Published: July 17th, 2021

Last modified: November 5th, 2021

Cite as: Tim McVicar, “Camellia Flowers and The Battle of the Buttonholes”, Womens History of New Zealand, Last modified November 2021, https://atomic-temporary-193744190.wpcomstaging.com/camellia-flowers-symbolism-suffrage-new-zealand/