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100 years since women gained the right to stand for Parliament

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Source: (L-R) New Zealand Free Lance Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ, Ref: C-16164-1/2; Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, AWN-19191127-37-1; Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 7-A10643.

The Women’s Parliamentary Rights Act became law on 29 October 1919, allowing women to stand for election to the House of Representatives. This was just in time for the general election on 16 - 17 November 1919.

Three women stood for election - Rosetta Baume in Parnell, Aileen Cooke in Thames, and Ellen Melville in Grey Lynn. None were successful, though Ellen Melville came second in Grey Lynn.

Melville stood in a total of seven elections - polling well, but never winning a seat. She often faced discrimination because of her gender, even from her own party. She firmly believed that ‘women would get nothing done for them in legislation unless they had women in parliament.’

Melville did have success in becoming the first women in NZ elected to a city council however - sitting on the Auckland City Council from 1913 to 1946.

Ten more women candidates were also unsuccessful before Elizabeth McCombs finally became New Zealand’s first female MP in a by-election in 1933.

Appointment to the Legislative Council was not open to women until 1941, and the first two were admitted in 1946. The Legislative Council was abolished in 1950.

By 1980 only 16 women had succeeded in parliamentary elections, but from then onwards women began to have more success. At the first MMP election in 1996, 19 of the new MPs were women. Today we have 49 women MPs, making up 40.8% of the New Zealand Parliament.

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