Mabel Howard – New Zealand’s first woman Cabinet Minister

It is 70 years since Mabel Howard (1894 – 1972) became New Zealand’s first woman Cabinet Minister.  She first entered Parliament in 1943, after winning the Christchurch East by-election on 6 February. In 1946, she won in the newly-formed electorate of Sydenham. In May 1947, Mabel was voted into Cabinet by the Labour caucus, on the death of Dan Sullivan.

Parliamentary debates 1st session, 28th Parliament vol. 267  June 24 to July 29 1947 lists Mabel like this:
Labour Ministry: Minister of Health, and Minister in Charge of Mental Hospitals – The Hon. Mabel Bowden Howard.

You can see Mabel talk about her new position – and what it meant to the women of New Zealand – here in New Zealand National Film Unit presents Weekly Review No. 306 (1947) published on ArchivesNZ YouTube channel.

A memorable moment in NZ political (and social) history is Mabel holding up bloomers. This was part of a debate in Parliament, to demonstrate variation in clothing sizes.

Member of Parliament, Mabel Howard, demonstrating that oversize bloomers vary in size. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-NZ Obits-Ho to Ht-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22391156
Member of Parliament, Mabel Howard, demonstrating that oversize bloomers vary in size. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP-NZ Obits-Ho to Ht-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22391156

Jim McAloon’s biography of Mabel in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography details her interesting life and career. She came into politics via the union movement, and working with her MP father Ted Howard.

Mabel Howard, Minister of Social Security, inspecting a data processing machine [computer?] built by IBM at the Social Security Building, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/4269-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23259028
Mabel Howard, Minister of Social Security, inspecting a data processing machine [computer?] built by IBM at the Social Security Building, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/4269-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23259028
Mabel was a Christchurch City councillor for a number of terms: 1933-1935, 1938-1941, 1950-1959, 1963-1968.

Green & Hahn (Firm). Dame Mabel Howard jiving with singer Johnny Devlin - Photograph taken by Green and Hahn. Clauson, Lou, 1928-2013:Photographs of singers and other entertainers. Ref: PAColl-5679-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23210753
Green & Hahn (Firm). Dame Mabel Howard jiving with singer Johnny Devlin – Photograph taken by Green and Hahn. Clauson, Lou, 1928-2013:Photographs of singers and other entertainers. Ref: PAColl-5679-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23210753

Mabel was a colourful character. There are fab Mabel photo ops you can see on DigitalNZ. She was bullish, efficient, conscientious, determined, and hard-working. Her life and career demonstrate her ongoing concern with women’s rights, equal pay, consumer protection, and social welfare. She was a fighter. A trail-blazer.

Mrs Mabel Howard, in her new house in Karori, Wellington, showing her making a cup of tea. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1960/0845-1-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/30652147
Mrs Mabel Howard, in her new house in Karori, Wellington, showing her making a cup of tea. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1960/0845-1-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/30652147

More about Mabel

Listen to:
Mabel Howard Women in the Council Chamber
Christchurch City Council
This brief political biography originally featured in an Our City O-Tautahi exhibition from 19 – 30 September 2006, featuring Christchurch’s own “Women in the Council Chamber”, initiated and co-ordinated by Cr Anna Crighton.

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

y648This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.

Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.

There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?

Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.

The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)

The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:

  1. A Waltz for Matilda
  2. The Girl From Snowy River
  3. The Road to Gundagai
  4. To Love a Sunburnt Country
  5. The Ghost by the Billabong
  6. If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Cover of A waltz for MatildaCover of the girl from Snowy Riverimage_proxy[3]Cover of To love a sunburnt countryCover of The ghost by the billabongCover of If Blood should stain the wattle

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753118

Podcast – COP and Climate change

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from New Zealand’s only specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

This episode discusses issues around the UN climate change conference, the “Conference of Parties” or COP 22 which is underway in Marrakech and questions whether it’s an effective way of combatting climate change. Also discussed are –

  • scientific and political understandings of the realities of climate change
  • carbon budget
  • History of COP especially COP-3 (Kyoto), COP-15 (Copenhagen) and COP-21 (Paris)
  • The Paris Agreement – What? Why? How has it been received?; the Agreement as enabler for grassroots environmental advocacy
  • New Zealand’s climate record

The panel for this show includes host Sally Carlton, Hamish Laing, Jeff Willis and Pubudu Senanayake.

Transcript of the audio file

Mentioned in this podcast

Find out more from our collection

Cover of Atmosphere of hope Cover of The Climate Fix Cover of The carbon crunch Cover of This changes everything Cover of Towards a warmer world Cover of Energy and climate vision for the future Cover of Climate change and the coast Cover of The politics of Climate change

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The show is also available on the following platforms:

Donald Vs Hillary – Is it really that simple? – WORD Christchurch

The last day of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival featured a balanced and illuminating discussion on The State of America – the USA’s venomous series of electoral struggles.

One would think that any discussion on the scrap for supremacy between Trump and Clinton would be over pretty quick: Trump’s obviously nuts! There goes that! Thanks for coming! But, believe it or not, it’s not that simple. Or so we were told by three very learned and wise humans who took the stage to give us some context on the whole quagmire. They were: historian Peter S. Field, political scientist Amy Fletcher, and TV writer and novelist Steve Hely (who helped produce American Dad! and 30 Rock).

Here is a surprising sample of what seemed to be the consensus of the multi-partisan panel:

First, it was argued Hillary has been given a markedly easier ride from the media.

After all, Trump is so scandalous and acrid that he distracts us with the kind of entertainment befitting of The Real Housewives of Auckland. But, all his antics have overshadowed what so many Americans are concerned about – Hillary’s alleged (arguably law breaking) ineptitude as Secretary of State (no, not a normal secretary, rather, senior official overseeing national security).

PeterField
Peter Field. Image supplied.

That cute local rag the New York Times claims as Secretary of State, Hillary used her unprotected home PC for sending and receiving highly sensitive material pertaining to national security (you know, as you do). This is kind of problematic, cos’ her private server is much easier hacked, putting thousands at risk – Americans take that kind of thing rather seriously … Further, such material should have been automatically archived for the purposes of governmental transparency, accountability and future reference.

So, these are apparently very serious, and apparently justified allegations. Yet generally overlooked by world media. So, while we all think the decision is pretty obvious, for lots of Americans the whole choice is a bit perplexing.

There was also another speculation – “is this the end of both (Republican and Democrat) parties?” Are we going to see genuine multi-party competition in the USA? With this, the discussion turned quickly to the widespread concern among Republicans that Trump’s’ damaging the party beyond repair, with Peter S. Field mooting “Trump is a sign of the end of the Republican Party”. But then, Dr Fletcher pointed out that lots of republican voters loved seeing Trump take down Jeb Bush, “whos a rich, establishment Republican”, who “never gets told what to do”, but got severely told. By Trump! Supposedly, rugged, liberty loving Republicans rejoiced at this public hanging, despite other party faithful freaking out about a future with the same Trump who gave lots of money to Democrat campaigns in the recent past – conflict of interest? In any case, it’d be cool to see the end of the two party electoral monopolization stifling American democracy.

It was a treat getting to hear from learned American citizens regarding their election. The only thing good about the whole thing is that I don’t have to make that decision.

WORD Christchurch

Trump vs Clinton

It’s on. Man vs woman. Republican vs Democrat. You may well be fed up with the whole thing by now but if not, we have plenty of reading material on the presidential hopefuls, including Trump’s The Art of the Deal.

Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of this immensely popular “memoir” of the real estate tycoon gave an astonishing interview with The New Yorker this week in which he expressed regret at having written it.

Cover of The art of the deal“I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Whoa.

But The Art of the Deal is by no means the only book about, or purportedly by, Trump in our collection.

Cover of Never enough Cover of Crippled America Cover of Trump never give up Cover of Trump University Real Estate 101

Find more titles about Donald J. Trump

But by sheer volume Hillary Rodham Clinton is in the lead…

Cover of H R C Cover of Hard choices Cover of Living history Cover of A woman in charge Cover of Her way Cover of Leadership secrets of Hillary Clinton Cover of The secretary Cover of Hillary

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Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla

CoverOut Of The Mountains focuses on how and why the future of guerrilla warfare, terrorism and insurgency will be carried out in dense urban environments, as opposed to the familiar practice of carrying out rebellions in jungle, mountainous or rural settings.

While this might all sound a bit Rambo and militaristic, David Kilcullen’s observations aren’t just borne out of his extensive knowledge and experience within conflict zones, but also his research into demography and economics which reveal global “mega-trends”.

These mega-trends are grand global changes such as rapid population growth, population density, accelerated urbanization, increasing interconnectedness, and littoralization (the tendancy for societies to cluster on coastlines). All of which exacerbate the challenges already faced by humanity …

Kilcullen argues that, despite wars BETWEEN countries declining, conflict WITHIN countries is on the increase. He says mega-trends intensify pre-existing hostilities, which involve ethno-sectarian loyalties and identities, as well as the countless and ever-fermenting ideological and religious struggles.

In addition, he argues these mega-trend environments become even more complex and volatile when you add other forces into the mix – such as climate change.

These issues are often outside of government control, especially when many countries are already unstable and corrupt, with large populations trying to scratch a living on low incomes (despite the burgeoning middle classes in emerging economies like the BRICS group).

Dr David Kilcullen, Chief Strategist, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, US State Department (2005-06)
Dr David Kilcullen, Chief Strategist, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, US State Department (2005-06) Urbanization and the Future of Conflict, 26 September 2013 Flickr cht.hm/1bLm217

So, the world’s mega-city future will probably feature a series of simmering geographic quagmires which render pre-existing national security and foreign policy doctrines quite useless. Some of what governments have learned over the decades will possibly be disregarded as they have to adapt to these new trends.

Being a New Zealander I don’t usually endorse anything which comes out of Australia, except maybe Home and Away or James Boag’s beer (Definitely not Tony Abbot’s Speedo clad aquatic heroics). But Australian David Kilcullen is a mastermind on counter-insurgency and military strategy. He was senior counter-insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus in Iraq, and the NATO security force in Afghanistan. That – along with his writing style – makes this book a very engaging read which illuminates complex subjects and makes them more understandable for people like me. His forecasting of the future is convincing.

This book makes a great companion to George Friedman’s Flashpoints, which also looks at the future of conflict and resource related issues.

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-45

Cover of LisbonThe great Italian poet Dante Alighieri once said, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality”. I generally agree with that sentiment when I look back on history and the lamentable omissions of leaders.

However, I’m reminded from time to time that geopolitical life isn’t always as simple as it seems … especially after reading baffling books like Neill Lochery’s Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the city of Light, 1939-45.

Lisbon covers the history of Portugal during WW2 under the dictator General Salazar, as he navigates the seas of non-alignment – among other seemingly unethical things.
Make no mistake, Salazar was a shrewd economist and politician, but opposed liberalism, democracy, socialism and anarchism (there being a strong anarchist movement in Europe at the time). Basically it was a fascist, authoritarian regime which persecuted lots of people.

But, despite the fascism that Lochery describes, the Salazar regime achieved the seemingly impossible during WW2 – Portugal being one of the few windows of escape from German occupied Europe for tens of thousands of persecuted Jews. Who then made their way to America, South America, England and Palestine.

However, not only was Portugal an avenue for escape for Europe’s Jews, its neutrality meant it was a swirling frenzy of desperate humans, all trying to get theirs in an environment wracked with widespread espionage and a bountiful black market (other war refugees, human trafficking, bribery, commercial dealings). Strangely, despite the authoritarian Portuguese regime with its secret police, laissez-faire Lisbon was a city where foreign operatives could to what they wanted, as long as Portugal’s internal affairs where left alone.

Therefore, Lisbon became a hive of WW2 undercover operations as German, English and American agents attempted to buy people, information and documentation in order to sabotage the other teams interests. One noteworthy individual in the midst of it all was Ian Fleming, who conceived his James Bond stories as a result of his experiences as an agent frequenting bars and gambling in Lisbon (think Casino Royale).

So, with all this carry-on comes intimate stories of individual brilliance and blundering as various agents, politicians, public servants and officials cleverly secured passage for escaping Jews and other scared peoples. The story of actor Leslie Howard’s (Gone With The Wind) death is relayed to us, as he and several other Jewish and English persons of interest are shot down in a plane leaving Lisbon. German counter-intelligence hoping Churchill was in there too. All rather thrilling!

Salazar’s economic dealings were a tightrope walk. He needed to keep his economy afloat, all the while keeping the Allies and Germans happy with critical exports for their own war efforts – export too much and one side gets angry at you, export too little and Hitler might get suspicious and invade you like he did the rest of mainland Europe. The pressure really must have been unbearable at times for Salazar, who was surrounded in Europe by Fascist Spain and Italy in the South, and Fascist Germany controlling much of Europe – any solid evidence of collaborating with the English and Portugal would have been pincered.

The author does well to convey the tension and apprehension of the people on the streets and in political office – as if time was running out to move the tide of refugees and information on to safer shores, before Hitler rumbles into town. In this respect this work reminds me of the film Casablanca. If you like that, then you will like this.

It leaves me a bit perplexed in terms of my own ethical principles, because Salazar was in many ways a tyrant. But that’s the thing I like about this book – it gives you insights into the decision making processes of those in leadership, without whom, many more lives would have been ruined.

Despite developing an appreciation for Salazar’s war time leadership, he was still a fascist. Give me liberal democracy any day.

Oh, and i’ts a beautiful book cover too.

You are free and strong. Go forward and lead on.

You are in front! Behind you are all the women in the world and all the children! Keep moving forward. Do not stop to blame those who are behind. Remember that they are weighted with what remains of all the shackles of all the women of the past; they cannot step forth free. But you are free and strong. Go forward and lead on.

Elizabeth Reid McCombs, née Henderson (1873-1935) [between 1919 and 1925] Mrs McCombs became New Zealand's first woman MP, for the Lyttelton electorate in 1933.
Elizabeth Reid McCombs, née Henderson (1873-1935) [between 1919 and 1925] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0028
Mrs McCombs became New Zealand’s first woman MP, for the Lyttelton electorate in 1933.
Stirring words written in July 1914 by Elizabeth McCombs: her article “Women in politics” still has relevance today.

So who was New Zealand’s first woman Member of Parliament?

  • Elizabeth (Bessie) Reid Henderson was born at Kaiapoi on 19 November 1873. She was the eighth of nine children, and despite the death of her father when she was 13, she stayed at school until aged 16.
  • In 1899 she became a committee member of the Progressive Liberal Association, a group that had as one of its aims the removal of barriers to women’s participation in civil and political life.
  •  A prohibitionist, she was the first president of the Young People’s No License League (1902-1905) and was a prominent figure in the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union
  • In 1903 Elizabeth married draper James McCombs. They had two children, Terence and Alison. They also raised two orphans.
  • When the second NZ Labour Party was formed in 1916, Elizabeth was elected onto the executive and her husband was elected President. He had been elected the M.P for Lyttelton in 1913, and held the seat until his death in 1933
  • She served on the Christchurch City Council from 1921-1934, where she was very active on committees – being appointed to the electricity committee in 1925 and chaired the Electricity Committee in 1929, and 1931-1935. She fought to win ratepayers the lowest domestic electricity rates in the country.
  • From 1925-1934 Elizabeth was also a member of the North Canterbury Hospital Board, and served on the Board’s Benevolent Committee. She worked to improved the quality of meals for nurses and patients, nurses’ working conditions, and the situation of the unemployed – remembering that the Great Depression started in 1929.
  • In 1926 Elizabeth’s name was included in the first group of women to be made Justices of the Peace in New Zealand.
  • 1927  first woman representative on the Christchurch Tramway Board, and in 1933 was elected to the committee managing the mayor’s Relief of Distress Fund
  • Following the death of her husband in 1993, Elizabeth won the Lyttelton by-election with a huge majority – over 50% of the 10,347 votes cast were for her, recognition of her work over the previous ten years.
  • In 1935 she was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal

During her two year tenure as M.P. , Elizabeth proved herself a skilled and effective orator, advocating for women’s rights – attacking a government unemployment policy that gave little assistance to unemployed women, not even including them in statistics, yet working women paid unemployment tax. She advocated for women police officers, and equal pay for women, as well as for unemployed youth and the need for New Zealand industries to be established so as to reduce unemployment

The huge workload took its toll, and Elizabeth’s health suffered as a result. She died in Christchurch on 7 June 1935.  Her son Terence succeeded to her parliamentary seat. The McCombs Memorial Garden in Woolston Park commemorates the lives of Elizabeth and James McCombs.

  Cover of My Dear Girl: A Biography of Elizabeth McCombs Cover of Marching on  Cover of Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan  Cover of The Book of New Zealand Women = Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa

Further reading

Political systems, 1940s style

Socialism: You have 2 cows. Given one to your neighbour.
Communism: You have two cows. Give both to the Govt. The Govt gives you milk.
Fascism: You have two cows. Give milk to Govt – Govt sells it.
Nazism: Govt shoots you and takes cows
New Dealism: Govt shoots one cow, milks the other & pours milk down the sink.
Capitalism: You sell one cow and buy a bull
Anarchism: Keep cows – shoot Govt. Steal another cow.
???: You have no cow.
Conservatism: Embalm the cows. Freeze the milk.

World War II letters and cards, Howard Kippenberger

Can anyone decode” ???: You have no cow.” Maybe despotism or heroism?

From World War II letters and cards, 1940-1945. The letters are written by Howard Kippenberger (Kip) to Glen and May Morgan.

The evils of inequality

Cover of The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do betterThe gap between the rich and the poor has become one of the most topical issues in many countries post GFC (Global Financial Crisis) and post Neo-Liberal economic reforms. More and more people seem to feel that the rich (particularly the super-rich) don’t pay enough tax and have managed to sneakily get away with taking no responsibility for the GFC while the rest of us languish in our lacklustre lifestyles working squillions of hours per week…and all the while paying our fair share to keep society running! Or so the Russell Brand sentiment goes.

So its against this backdrop that The Spirit Level should be read, I guess…

The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone is among a handful of cornerstone works for anyone who is interested in 21st century political and economic thought. I reckon. In fact, I’d almost argue that it is a grand thesis which seeks to give policy advice on how to solve (or markedly reduce) a catalogue of society’s ills through its recommendations and findings.

Inequality = poor outcomes

The key message that authors (and epidemiologists) Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett want to drive home is that the more “unequal” a society is, the more likely that society is to manifest higher degrees of illness, mental illness, drug abuse, widespread poor educational outcomes, obesity, social mobility and cohesion, violence, teen pregnancy, among other societal ills such as rapacious consumerism.

The focus on “inequality” is really on Income Inequality – the income gap between those at the top, middle and bottom. The argument being that countries with larger income gaps experience more societal ills.

International research

Their claims with regard to what drives poor outcomes in terms of societal well-being are backed up by some quite robust research comparing and contrasting various developed countries (and comparing States to States in the USA). Lots of graphs, statistical data etc drawn from reputable organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank (among many others).

However, not all variables are taken into account which might frustrate some people – claiming rates of obesity are higher in the USA compared to Japan because of the USA’s rough private healthcare system is a bit unfair when you leave out factors such as Japan’s healthy and entrenched culinary traditions, and genetic factors (skinny genes).

More tax…good?

But, it also seems that countries which have higher income taxes and high levels of wealth redistribution (i.e gather large amounts of tax revenue to pay for generous education, welfare, healthcare and maternity leave programmes) are more “equal” than countries which have low taxes and far less social spending – we see less of the aforementioned health and well-being problems if we practice the former!

However, the authors seem more concerned about Income Inequality (even if the average income is quite good but the top income markedly better), not so much tax. But what is outstanding is that pretty much all of the “most equal” countries have really high income tax regimes (Japan, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway).

So you are kind of left to draw your own conclusion about which is the most important – income equity or high tax rates, or both?

Sadly, New Zealand and Australia rank really highly in terms of inequality according to the authors, and therefore, this is what drives a variety of problems here and in Oz. Not just “people being lazy” etc.

Don’t be put off the by the academic sounding nature of the book, it’s really well written which makes all the technical sounding stuff really palatable.