Suffragists – Mary Ann Muller and Kate Edger
A woman who concealed her true identity under the pen name Femina was New Zealand’s pioneer suffragist. A few years later the founding principal of Nelson College for Girls lent her support to the suffragist movement to gain women the right to vote.
Working like a mole - Mary Ann Muller (1820-1901)
Mary Ann Muller's feminist ideas were formed in England, where she became concerned at the degree of legal discrimination against women.
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Separated from her first husband, James Griffiths, on the grounds of cruelty, Mary Ann Wilson emigrated from London to New Zealand with her children. She met her second husband, Stephen Muller, the ship's surgeon, on board the Pekin in 1849. She worked as a teacher for two years in Nelson, before she married Stephen in Nelson in 1851. They lived in Waimea East.
Stephen was an elected member and Secretary of the Nelson Provincial Council. Mary Ann met politically influential men through her husband and discussed women's rights with them.1 Her particular concern was the loss of women's property rights upon marriage, and she also felt strongly that women should be able to vote. Some men were sympathetic, but many others, including Stephen, were firmly against notions of women's rights.2
The couple moved to Blenheim in 1857, when Stephen was appointed Resident Magistrate for the Wairau. Mary Ann felt unable to voice her views publicly. ‘Working like a mole'3 she enlisted the support of her son-in-law Charles Elliot, the editor of The Nelson Examiner, who agreed to print her feminist articles anonymously, under the pen name Femina4 (or Femmina). He ensured that her articles were widely distributed, and Femina became well known throughout the country.
In 1864, she met British women's rights advocate Maria Rye, who was visiting New Zealand, connecting her to feminist movements in Britain and the United States.
In 1869 Mary Ann wrote the first women's rights pamphlet in New Zealand. ‘An Appeal to the Men of New Zealand' by Femina argued that women should not be discriminated against in law or politics because of their sex, and should have the right to vote. "How long are women to remain a wholly unrepresented body of people?" 5
As a result, Mary Ann met with and influenced numerous politicians, although she herself was reluctant to become a public activist because of her husband's position. Parliamentary Acts to protect the property of married women were passed in 1870 and 1884. In 1893 women won the right to vote, and Mary Ann wrote that, while now an old woman, she thanked God she had been able to register herself an elector.6
Mary Ann's identity as Femina was finally revealed in 1898, after Stephen's death.7 Kate Sheppard, who led the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union campaign to win women the vote, referred to her as New Zealand's pioneer suffragist.8
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Educated with the boys - Kate Edger (1857-1935)
Kate Edger was the first woman in New Zealand to gain a university degree, and the first woman in the British Empire to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She received an unconventional education, studying with top boy pupils at Auckland College and Grammar School, which was affiliated with the University of New Zealand, through which she earned her degree in 1877.9
In 1882, while teaching at Christchurch Girls' High School, Kate gained an M.A.10 Soon after, she was appointed as the founding principal of Nelson College for Girls,11 where she gained a reputation as a gifted teacher, respected by pupils. She became a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union while in Nelson, running meetings and making speeches in support of its suffrage campaign.12
Kate married Welsh Congregational Minister William Evans in Auckland in 1890 and resigned from the college.13 The couple moved to Wellington, where Kate taught privately at home while raising three children. She continued her suffrage work in Wellington and was there when women gained the vote in 1893.14
2008 (updated 2022)
Sources used in this story
- Devaliant, J. (1992). Kate Sheppard, The Fight for Women's Votes in New Zealand. Auckland N.Z.: Penguin, pp.11-12
- Coney, S. (1993). Standing in the sunshine: a history of New Zealand women since they won the vote. Wellington, N.Z.: Penguin, p.16
- Dalziel, R. (1993), Mary Ann Muller. In, The Suffragists, Women Who Worked for the Vote: essays from the Dictionary of New Zealand biography / with an introduction by Dorothy Page Wellington, N.Z.: Bridget Williams Books and the Department of Internal Affairs, p.101.
- Dalziel, R., pp.101,103
- Dalziel, R., pp.102,103
- Devaliant, J., pp.126,172
- Devaliant, J., p.172.
- Dalziel, R., p.103.
- Hughes, B.(1993), Kate Edger. In The Suffragists, women who worked for the vote: essays from the Dictionary of New Zealand biography. Wellington, N.Z.: Bridget Williams Books and the Department of Internal Affairs, pp.61, 63.
- Hughes, B., p.63
- Voller, L. (1982), Sentinel at the gates, Nelson College for Girls 1883-1983. Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson College for Girls Old Girls Association, pp. 14-16, 20-33
- Hughes, B., p.63.
- Voller, L.,p.33
- Hughes, B. (1993, pp.64, 65).
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Further sources - Suffragists – Mary Ann Muller and Kate Edger
- Devaliant, J. (1992, pp.11-12). Kate Sheppard: the fight for women’s votes in New Zealand, Auckland, N.Z.: Penguin.
- Coney, S (1993). Standing in the sunshine: a history of New Zealand women since they won the vote. Wellington, N.Z.: Penguin.
- The suffragists, women who worked for the vote: essays from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Wellington, N.Z.: Bridget Williams Books and the Department of Internal Affairs.
- Grimshaw, P. (1972) Women’s suffrage in New Zealand. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland University Press.
- Harper, B. (1980), Petticoat Pioneers, South Island Women of the Colonial Era, Book 3. Wellington, N.Z.: A.H. & A.W. Reed.
- Muller, M. A., & Young Women's Christian Association. (1990). YWCA New Zealand 1990 official project. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland Young Women's Christian Association.
- Muller, Mary Ann (1878). An appeal to the men of New Zealand. Wellington, N.Z.: New Zealand Mail
- Voller, L. C. (1982). Sentinel at the gates, Nelson College for Girls 1883-1983 Nelson N.Z.: Nelson College for Girls Old Girls Association, pp. 14-16, 20-33
[Where no hyperlink is supplied ask at your local library about full text access to the articles.]
- Correspondence . The married women's property bill. Letter to the editor by Femmina (Femina) (1870, August 3) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 29(62), 6
- Brooks, C (1993, September 1) 100 years of woman’s suffrage; Feisty rights pioneer survived brutal marriage. Marlborough Express, 1 Sep 1993; p.19
- One woman : one vote; Gentle guardian of society; Secret fighter for justice (1993, February 3, s.2) New Zealand Herald, p.6
- Nelson College for Girls (1883, January 18). Grey River Argus. 27 (4495), p. 3
- A notable feminist [Kate Sheppard] (1971) New Zealand's heritage, v. 4. Sydney: Hamlyn Paul, pp.1301-1307
- "An appeal to the men of New Zealand" by Femmina (Femina) (1869, September 1) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 28, (70), 3
- The right to vote: Nelson women began successful fight (1958, November 28) Nelson Mail [PDF]
- Women campaign for the vote (1971) New Zealand's heritage, v. 4. Sydney: Hamlyn Paul, pp.1295-1300
- Griffiths, Sarah (1992?) Mary Ann Muller [donated by Karen Glasgow - essay completed as a school project by Muller's great, great, great grand daughter). [PDF]
- Muller, Mary Anne - nee Wilson (1820-91) and Stephen Lunn (c1814-89) (1992) Unedited version of essay for Nelson Historical society biographical dictionary [PDF]
- Grigg, L K V (Ed.). (c1955). The tale of years: compiled for the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union. Christchurch, [N.Z.]: Weeks Ltd.
- Henderson, C. (c1945). The WCTU in action: a long view. Christchurch, [N.Z.]: Weeks Ltd.
- Smith, W. Sidney. (1905). Outlines of the women's franchise movement in New Zealand. Christchurch, N.Z.: Whitcombe & Tombs.
- Women's Christian Temperance Union. (9.9.1945).Diamond jubilee programme, September 9th, 1945. Nelson, N.Z.: R. Lucas & Son.
- Dalziel, Raewyn (2007, June 22) 'Müller, Mary Ann 1819/1820? - 1901'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007. Retrieved September 29, 2008 from
- He Tohu. A Petition: Women's suffrage petition. Retrieved from National Library: http://natlib.govt.nz/he-tohu/about/womens-suffrage-petition
- Hughes, Beryl (2007, June 22) 'Edger, Kate Milligan 1857 - 1935'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. . Retrieved September 29, 2008 from
- Kate Edger Place (n.d.). Retrieved from Google Maps, September 14, 2022:
https://www.google.com/maps/place/Kate+Edger+Place,+Stoke,+Nelson+7011/@-41.3266626,173.221698,18.5z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x6d3b949c776d4be3:0x334c70b3903da2bf!8m2!3d-41.32666!4d173.2217535 [location map]
- Mary Ann Muller Crescent (n.d). Retrieved from Google Maps 14 September, 2022: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Mary+Ann+Muller+Crescent,+Stoke,+Nelson+7011/@-41.310164,173.2209965,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x6d3b936fa35eec27:0xdf8d06b6baad2d65!8m2!3d-41.310164!4d173.2209965/ [location map]
- Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2008, October 2) An appeal to the men of New Zealand. Retrieved October11, 2008, from New Zealand history online: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/an-appeal-to-the-men-of-new-zealand
- 'Muller, Mary Ann' (1966). In McLintock, A.H (ed) An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Retrieved from Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated September 18, 2007:
- Ministry for Culture and Heritage (2008, January 11) Kate Edger. Retrieved October11, 2008, from New Zealand history online: