Women Decision-makers of Nelson 1956-2018


Like many cities in New Zealand, the present geographic boundaries of Nelson City Council have enlarged somewhat over the years. Originally Tahunanui, Stoke, Atawhai and the Whangamoa Riding were part of the Waimea County Council.

women decision makers

Women decision makers of Nelson Tasman. Cover image

A progression of changes from 1950 to 1989 saw these areas gradually become part of Nelson City. Today the city stretches from its southwest boundary with Richmond at Champion Road, to the Bryant Range in the east and Cape Soucis in the north.

It covers a land area of 422 square kilometres and has an approximate population of just under 50,000.

Nelson has an interesting history with regards to women voting. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1867 did not debar women from voting providing they were ratepayers/landowners.

It was up to the individual provincial governments to decide if such women could vote. Both Nelson and Otago permitted them to do so. However, women who were not ratepayers or landowners (and that was the vast majority of them) did not enjoy this privilege.

While Nelson city's first mayor was elected in 1874 it wasn't until 1956, some 82 years later and 63 years after New Zealand women gained the right to vote, that Betsy Walter was elected as the city's first woman councillor. In the years ahead Betsy also became the city's first woman deputy mayor.

In subsequent years another six women have held the position of deputy mayor but it wasn't until 2013 that the city's first woman mayor, Rachel Reese was elected. At the time of writing in 2018 Rachel is still the city's mayor.

NCC Logo Landscape RGB

Nelson City Council logo

In 2018, only 23%, or three out of a total of the city's twelve councillors and mayor, are women. Again like Tasman many women have stood for election but few have reached the council table. Nonetheless those women who have been elected have contributed significantly to the governance of the city. Of particular note is the hard work by Elma Turner to convince the council of the need for a modern library service. Her work resulted in the opening of the Elma Turner Library in the city in 1990.


This was published in Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944-2018, p. 8. Compiled by Dr Shelley Richardson, Elaine Henry, Gail Collingwood, Hilary Mitchell.

Sources used in this story

  • Richardson, S., Henry, E., Collingwood, G., Mitchell, H., & National Council of Women of New Zealand, Nelson Branch. (2018). Women decision makers Nelson and Tasman: 1944-2018. Nelson, New Zealand: National Council of Women of New Zealand, Nelson Branch. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1066141092

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  • Thank you for a great series of articles (mostly 'in their own voice') on/about women decision makers of Nelson 1956 - 2018. There needs to be a few more articles to be written to be up to date (Yvonne Bowater 2019 - 2022, Judene Edgar 2019 - 2022, Trudie Brand 2019 -, Rachel Sanson 2019 -, and confirm on pages written that Gaile Noonan & Kate Fulton both retired in 2022). What is interesting throughout is: 1. why did these women stand for Council in the first place, 2. what was their experience & what did they feel they contributed to, and 3. for the majority of the women why did they leave after only serving one or two terms (3 or 6 years) at the Council table?

    The women decision makers that only served one term (3 years) were:
    Helen Davies 1977 - 1980 left because started training to become a nurse and stood "just to show people that the Values Party is up and running".
    Faith Price 1986 -1989 stood because "I woke up one morning thinking that ordinary people could stand for Council."
    Judy Greer 1989 -1992 stood because "I could do that" and left because not re-elected.
    Babbie Joyce 2001 -2004 stood because "encouraged by several people to run" left "due to family responsibilities".
    Alison McAlpine 2007 -2010 left because new role meant she could not give time to Council.
    Yvonne Bowater 2019 - 2022 left (reported in Nelson Mail) because fell out with Chair of a Committee while she was Deputy?
    Judene Edgar 2019 -2022 left - no (reported) reason given?

    Those that served longer terms (three or more) seem to have a strong reason (or reasons) for standing or an objective or goal that developed when a councillor (Kate Fulton - climate action & biodiversity, 12 years service; Elma Turner - a Nelson library, 17 years service), may have done some due diligence on what the role on Council involved (attended Council meetings prior to election &/or talked to previous or existing women councillors), and a large number went on to become Deputy Mayor (Betsy Eyre 17 years service, Pat Tindle 12 years service, Jo Raine 14 years service, and Gail Collingwood 18 years service).

    Posted by Women Decision-makers of Nelson 1956 - 2018, 09/05/2023 10:15pm (1 year ago)

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