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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