Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944-2018


Foreword to the book

women decision makers

Women decision makers Nelson and Tasman 1944-2018 cover image

It came as a surprise in this Suffrage 125 year to find that there was no one record and few details of all the women who have been elected to local government in the Nelson/Tasman region. This booklet sets out to address this void and to acknowledge the wonderful contribution these 52 women have made and continue to make to our region. We hope it will also encourage women to stand for election to local government in the years to come.

With the passing of the Electoral Act 1893 women became eligible not only to vote but also to be elected as councillors and mayors. It was not until 51 years later however that the first woman councillor was elected in our region. This honour went to Laura Ingram who was elected to the Motueka Borough Council in 1944. Over the next 25 years only a further five women were elected in the region. It wasn't until the 1970s that women began to be elected in any sizeable numbers. In spite of the efforts of many, in 2018 only 21 % of Tasman's and 23% of Nelson City's elected councillors and mayors are women.

Many women have been candidates for the mayoralty but it wasn't until 2013 that our region had its first female mayor, Mayor Rachel Reese of Nelson. However in 1986 Golden Bay County councillors elected Ann Lewis as their first female chairperson.(1). Ann was the second woman in New Zealand to chair a county council. A total of eight women have been deputy mayors.

To gather the information for this booklet we invited all women who had been elected or are currently councillors and the mayor to contribute up to 500 words on their local government experience. Dr Shelley Richardson gathered information on each of the remaining women who are deceased and wrote most of the short pieces about their lives. Locating this information involved days of reading council minute books and copies of the Nelson Evening Mail, and talking with people who knew these women. At the Nelson Provincial Museum we located a Suffrage Centennial document that recorded the profiles and photos of some women in office in 1993; the Museum gave us permission to use this very helpful document.

Locating photos was also a lengthy process involving examination of the extensive photographic archives of the Nelson Provincial Museum and microfilm copies of the Nelson Evening Mail who waived the copyright approval for these photos.

In this booklet we have been unable to cover the women elected to the two community boards in the region and hope that this will be addressed later. As far as is known no women were elected to the former county councils of Collingwood and Murchison. If we have overlooked any woman councillor the compilers would be grateful to have the details for the future.

This booklet gives us a glimpse into the experiences of women while elected to local government in the Nelson/Tasman region. The prime factor in their decision to stand for local government was frequently a concern for the well-being of their community. For most of the women, council meetings were initially a little daunting as they struggled with the complexities of a wide range of issues and got to grips with formal council procedures. A few months later as confidence grew they began to relish the experience. While the vast majority of women felt welcome around the council table a few felt intimidated and unwelcome.

The women were and continue to be involved in the vast range of activities and duties which elected members are called to perform. Some really enjoyed their participation in what may be seen as more traditional areas for women such as libraries, parks and reserves. But the women also enjoyed being on the resource management, finance and engineering committees. They experienced much satisfaction where they were able to bring about changes big or small, for the betterment of the greater community.

Did the women regret their involvement as elected members of local government in the Nelson/Tasman region? Read on and see. Then consider standing or encouraging and empowering other women to stand for election to local government.

Gail Collingwood, Elaine Henry, Hilary Mitchell, Shelley Richardson

Disclaimer: The events recalled and the views expressed in the memoirs of the women are their own recollections and views. The compilers accept no responsibility for the accuracy of these. 

This was published in: Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944 -2018, p.6-7. Compiled by Dr Shelley Richardson, Elaine Henry, Gail Collingwood, Hilary Mitchell.

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Sources used in this story

  1. Footnote: 'Chairs of county councils were elected by the councillors from amongst their own number. Unlike mayors, they were not elected by the public at large. 

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