First National Council of Women, Christchurch, 1896

National Council of Women, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
National Council of Women, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-041798-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Looking at this photo makes me very grateful that I wasn’t born any earlier –  these Victorian clothes look so hot, so uncomfortable, and as for those fussy caps! Ugh!

But what these women are wearing is about the least important part of the  photograph – this is the first National Council of Women, meeting in Christchurch 13-18 April 1896.  It was a world first – a national meeting of women who could vote in parliamentary elections.

Their aim was to ‘unite all organised Societies of Women for mutual counsel and co-operation, and in the attainment of justice and freedom for women, and for all that makes for the good of humanity’.

Many were veterans of the battle to gain women’s right to vote – Kate Sheppard (seated 5th from the left) – which was passed into law three years earlier, while others – such as Annie Schnackenberg (seated on Kate’s left) – were also involved in the temperance movement. Kate Sheppard was voted in as the first President of the Council.

Over the course of six days they passed a number of resolutions including:

Kate Sheppard Memorial
Kate Sheppard Memorial, Flickr CCL-KateSheppard-2010-08-24-IMG_1863
  • the need for minimum wages
  • the conditions of divorce for man and women be made equal
  • the private ownership of large tracts of land, and these kept locked up by absentees, is a wrong inflicted on the people, and is detrimental to progress
  • the abolition of capital punishment
  • the continuation of the present system of free, compulsory, and secular education, and the expansion of technical education
  • that women be eligible to serve on all juries
  • a system of Old Age Pensions, or Annuities, should be established


The National Council of Women of New Zealand Te Kaunihera Wahine o Aotearoa is still active, still needed, continuing the good fight for pay equity, extending paid parental leave, ending discrimination against women.

Further reading

Cover of A history of New Zealand women Cover of Maori and Aboriginal women in the public eye Cover of Kiwi rock chicks, pop stars & trailblazersCover of Golden girls Cover of Inside stories Cover of Ettie Rout

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