Acknowledgement at last

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Recently completed street art commemorating Elizabeth Yates (1945-1918), the first female mayor elected in any country of the (then) British Empire. Located in Onehunga, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

When New Zealanders speak proudly of being the first country in the world in which women were able to vote (in 1893), we tend to think in terms of national politics — electing the Members of Parliament who (supposedly) represent us.

But in reality, women had been able to vote in local council elections since 1876 — as long as they owned property and were thus ratepayers. This requirement definitely excluded most women, just not solely on the basis of gender.

And while — until a law change in 1919 — MPs could only be men; there was no such barrier to women candidates at the local level.

And so, one day after the historic general election of 28 November 1893, voters in the Auckland borough of Onehunga elected Elizabeth Yates as their mayor– making her not only the first woman mayor in New Zealand, but in the whole British Empire.

Elizabeth Yates was the wife of Onehunga’s incumbent mayor, Captain Michael Yates, and widely regarded as the power behind that throne. Michael retired from the mayoralty due to ill-health, and apparently wasn’t keen on Elizabeth standing for election to replace him. But she was an articulate, forthright woman, with a high profile in the suffrage movement and strong debating experience. In the absence of a viable (male) alternative, she was put forward as a candidate and beat her only opponent by 13 votes.

Elizabeth’s mayoralty only lasted one year (elections were held annually at that time), despite her success implementing some important policies. She was responsible for liquidating the borough debt, upgrading roads, footpaths and sanitation, and reorganising the fire brigade. Not bad for a twelve month period in office.

But she was an unpopular leader; considered tactless, (with a) dictatorial manner and lack of regard for established rules of procedure.”

I can’t help wondering though, if a man displaying the same attributes might have been lauded as “direct, decisive and great at cutting through red tape.”

Elizabeth Yates née Oman was born in Caithness, Scotland c. 1845. She arrived in New Zealand as a child, and spent most of her life in Onehunga. She married Michael Yates in 1875. The couple had no children.

She was a passionate and vocal advocate for women’s suffrage, but unlike many suffragettes, was not involved in the temperance movement and did not support prohibition. She is reported as saying it would be a burning shame to rob the working man of his beer.

Although her mayoralty was brief, Elizabeth was elected back onto the Onehunga Borough Council between 1899 and 1901. Her husband died in 1902 and her life seems to have disintegrated somewhat after that. She suffered from alcoholism and dementia and spent the last nine years of her life in the Auckland Mental Hospital, dying on 6 September 1918.

I first learned about Elizabeth Yates when I began researching memorials to notable New Zealand women, inspired by Anabel at The Glasgow Gallivanter who regularly writes about women in Scotland’s history.

At the time, I could find nothing — no statue, street name or banknote portrait commemorating Elizabeth. So you’ll understand that I was quite delighted to find this mural in Onehunga. It is tucked away down a narrow side street, and I had to make several visits to get a shot of it without cars parked in the way, but at least it is some acknowledgement of a woman who was, I suspect, well ahead of her time.

If you would like to see Elizabeth Yates in action, here is a link to the NZ Film Archive Nga Taonga Sound & Vision which has a clip of her addressing a meeting. It’s the oldest complete piece of footage in NZ and the earliest that records a political event. Unfortunately, I can’t embed the footage but it’s a short clip and worth the click.

Once again, I’m grateful to Anabel for inspiring me to find out more about the women who have shaped history in my country as she does in hers. You might want to check out her post Women Make History if you haven’t already.

#WomenMakeHistory

 

 

 

 

 

126 years

Camellia Japonica “Kate Sheppard.” Seen in the grounds of the NZ Parliament, Wellington. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Yesterday was Women’s Suffrage Day in New Zealand.

On September 19th, 1893, the Governor General Lord Glasgow, signed into law a bill granting eligibility to vote to “all women who were ‘British subjects’ and aged 21 and over, including Māori, were now eligible to vote (the nationhood requirement excluded some groups, such as Chinese women).”

It made New Zealand the first country in the world to grant women the vote.

The white camellia was a symbol of women’s suffrage, and this cultivar, “Kate Sheppard” is named after one of the leaders of the suffrage movement.

Kate Sheppard (and the camellia) are also depicted on our ten dollar bill.

Posted to Friday Flowers

Spartan

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Final resting place: Rose Anne Hall (nee Dryden), and her husband Sir John Hall (former Premier of New Zealand, and campaigner for universal suffrage). Churchyard of St John’s, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Monuments to the dead are often elaborate structures; from mausolea and sarcophagi to intricately carved headstones of crosses, winged angels, birds, flora, and all manner of other symbolic elements. Often the more prominent the person in life, the more magnificent their funerary art.

So it was something of a surprise to find — in the churchyard of St John’s Anglican Church Hororata – the spartan graves of Sir John Hall (18241907) and his wife Rose, nee Dryden, (1828-1900).

Both Rose Dryden and John Hall were born in England and arrived in New Zealand as young adults. John Hall came to farm in Canterbury, but entered politics quite quickly. He served as a Cabinet Minister in several administrations, and as Premier of New Zealand between 8 Oct 1879 and 21 Apr 1882.

Although a conservative, Hall is best remembered as one of the major driving forces behind women’s suffrage in New Zealand, championing the cause in Parliament.

I can find little information about Rose Dryden. Indeed she is not even mentioned in Hall’s biography in Te Ara — Encyclopedia of New Zealand.  In fact, the only reference I can find for her in NZ historical sources is an entry in NZ History that she (probably) signed the Women’s Suffrage petition, alongside 32,000 other women. This petition was famously presented to Parliament by her husband; all 500 pages glued together to form a roll that stretched over 270 metres.

The Halls were prominent citizens of the Canterbury province, having their farm and homestead in Hororata. They were actively involved in the community — regularly attending church at St John’s (and apparently teaching in the Sunday School), as well as school prize-giving, sports days and other events. I know this because the Big T’s family also has strong roots in Hororata, and newspaper archives tell me that some of his ancestors were recipients of those school prizes.

The Big T and I spent well over an hour in the St John’s churchyard, searching for — and finding — headstones for a very large number of his ancestors. Amongst those memorials to the dead, the Halls’ graves stand out as perhaps the plainest and most spartan.

Perhaps their children believe that the best memorial to their parents lies in the ballot papers cast by women in each election.

Posted to Ragtag Daily Prompt |spartan

OK: not Wordless Wednesday

On September 19, 1893, the (all-male) parliament of Aotearoa-New Zealand passed The Electoral Act which granted all women in this country over 21 the right to vote in general and local elections. It was the first country in the world to do so.

Amongst the many events and exhibitions commemorating this milestone is one at the Auckland Museum which reflects on how far women here have come towards equality since 1893.

I think Sandra Coney (author, historian, health campaigner and politician) said it rather well:

“… you measure women’s progress not by how women are doing at the top, but how they are doing at the bottom.

On that basis, we’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet.

Suffrage and service, celebrating women in Auckland’s public art

Part of the Women's Suffrage Centenial Memorial in Auckland. Designed by Claudia Pond Eyley, tiles made by Jan Morrison. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centenial Memorial in Auckland. Designed by Claudia Pond Eyley, tiles made by Jan Morrison. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

I mentioned in passing a couple of weeks ago, that I’d been inspired by a post by Anabel at The Glasgow Gallivanter (Hidden Histories) to search out the monuments and memorials to women in Auckland.

And since this week’s Daily Post Challenge asks us to be a tour guide in our home town, why don’t you grab your virtual sunscreen and water bottle and let’s take a wander around the places in which women collectively are acknowledged in Auckland.

Note: Auckland are has several public statues of and memorials to individual women — but that will have to wait for another post.

New Zealand was the first country in the world to legislate for women’s suffrage, and this is commemorated in a couple of pieces of public art here.

The most visible is the Women’s Suffrage Centenary Memorial, a tiled mosaic which covers several walls in a CBD plaza. The memorial was unveiled in 1993 by the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and NZ’s (first woman) Governor General at the time, Dame Catherine Tizard.

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Women’s Suffrage Centenary Memorial, Te Ha o Hine Place, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

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Detail of Women’s Suffrage Centenary Memorial, showing the Suffrage Petition signed by over 25,500 women in 1893. Te Ha o Hine Place, Auckland.

The memorial was created by artists Claudia Pond Eyley and Jan Morrison.

In the early 2000s, the council planned to remove the mosaic as part of an upgrade to the area. Fortunately there was sufficient public protest that instead (after years of debate and indecision) the memorial was instead expanded, and part of the plaza renamed Te Ha o Hine Place.

This comes from a Maori proverb, ‘Me aro koe ki te Hā o Hine-ahu-one’ and translates as ‘pay heed to the dignity of women’. (Stuff, 2 September 2016)

Much better in my opinion than the original name — Khartoum Place — which commemorates a 19th century siege from Britain’s colonial past.

Stylised corten steel camellia forms the Women's Suffrage Memorial (2013), created by MVS Studio and located in Rose Park, Mt Roskill, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Women’s Suffrage Memorial (2013), created by MVS Studio and located in Rose Park, Mt Roskill, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

The second Women’s Suffrage Memorial is an stylised representation of a camellia, fashioned of corten steel (MVS Studio, 2013). Around the base, names of local women who signed the 1893 Suffrage Petition are inscribed.

The sculpture is located in a small rose garden at the intersection of two main roads.
I have driven past it dozens of times since it was unveiled in 2013, and had no idea what it was until I actually researched suffrage memorials.

Equally hidden in plain sight is the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Hall, which seems (confusingly) to also be called the Ellen Melville Centre.

The Pioneer Women's Hall / Ellen Melville Centre, Freyberg Place, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

The Pioneer Women’s Memorial Hall / Ellen Melville Centre, Freyberg Place, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

I mentioned to quite a few people that I was doing this post, and would include the hall. I was met with universally blank stares, until I described its (quite prominent, CBD) location. Then I got “oh, is that what it’s called.”

The building has recently been refurbished and now has a bronze sculpture by artist Lisa Reihana adorning one wall.

Entitled Justice, it references Ellen Melville, the second woman in New Zealand to qualify as a lawyer (admitted to the Bar in 1906), and very important figure in the country’s women’s movement.

Justice, by Lisa Reihana. Sculpture in bronze on the wall of the O-Connell Street facade of the Ellen Melville Centre, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Justice (2017), by Lisa Reihana. Sculpture in bronze on the wall of the O-Connell Street facade of the Ellen Melville Centre, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

 

The Ellen Melville Centre and camellia memorials may be hidden in plain sight, but the sculpture, Statue of a Cloaked Woman by Christine Hellyar, is just plain hidden.

Amongst the trees, Statue of a Cloaked Woman, Christine Hellyar, 1994. Located in Alice Wylie Reserve, Mt Albert. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Amongst the trees, Statue of a Cloaked Woman, Christine Hellyar, 1995. Located in Alice Wylie Reserve, Mt Albert. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

The sculpture is located in Alice Wylie Reserve (1) in the suburb of Mt Albert. It was commissioned in 1995 by the Mt Albert Women’s Memorial Committee to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of women to the well-being of the local community.

Statue of a Cloaked Woman, Christine Hellyar, cast in bronze. Located in Alice Wylie Reserve, Mt Albert, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Statue of a Cloaked Woman, Christine Hellyar, cast in bronze. Located in Alice Wylie Reserve, Mt Albert, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Statue of a Cloaked Woman is a bronze, cast on site by the artist. It sits in the middle of a garden, surrounded by tall trees and barely visible from any part of the park or the street beyond. There is no path leading to the sculpture, and access is through a garden.

This seems particularly sad, as amongst the women who have served Mt Albert (as Members of Parliament alone) are Helen Clark, NZ’s first elected woman Prime Minister; and our current PM, Jacinda Ardern, who is not only our youngest, but also the first Prime Minister of NZ to be pregnant in office.

I suspect, that tucked away in other parts of Auckland, there will be other monuments to women — collectively as well as individually. Now my task is to find them.

Daily Post Photo Challenge | tour guide


  1. Alice Wylie was a local Councillor, Deputy Mayor and political figure in the Mt Albert area.

Friday flowers: Kate Sheppard camellia

Close-u shot.Camellia Japonica "Kate Sheppard." Seen in the grounds of the NZ Parliament, Wellington.  Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Camellia Japonica “Kate Sheppard.” Seen in the grounds of the NZ Parliament, Wellington. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

In November 1893, New Zealand became the first country the first in the world to grant women the vote.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of this event, women MPs planted white camellias — the flower used to symbolise support for women’s suffrage — in the grounds of Parliament House. The specific camellia planted is called “Kate Sheppard“, after the our most famous suffragette.