Sunday, 14 September 2008

Seventy-five years of NZ women in our Parliament

Elizabeth McCombs, our first female Member of Parliament, was elected on September 13th 1933, in a by-election for the seat of Lyttleton. Her husband James had won the seat in 1931 by only 32 votes, but Elizabeth (aged 60) won a majority of 2600, having overcome internal opposition to contest the by-election for Labour. She had stood for Parliament twice previously, in 1928 and 1931, in unwinnable seats, and was also on the Christchurch City Council and a number of other elected bodies.
It seems some things change only very slowly. According to this link at NZ History, one of the main concerns before McCombs took up her seat swirled around the issue of fashion; namely what on earth would a woman wear in the House? Hence the cartoon above, which was published on 23rd September 1933.

Sadly Elizabeth's health deteriorated considerably and she died in office, like her husband before her, in 1935. The seat must have been something of a family dynasty, as her son, Terence McCombs, succeeded her in Lyttelton and went on to become Minister of Education.

After Elizabeth's death, it wasn't until 1938 that a second woman, Catherine Stewart (Labour, Wellington West) was elected, and since then we've always had at least one woman in the House. Helen Clark is the longest serving female MP in our current Parliament; first elected in 1981, she has been continuously in Parliament for 27 years, winning her seat of Mt Albert (in its various incarnations) for nine elections in a row now. Clark seems a certainty to retain the seat again in November, and may thus beat Whetu Tirakatene-Sullivan's (Labour, Southern Maori) record of twenty nine years in the House, if she sees out the full term.

Hat tipped to Idiot/Savant.

1 comment:

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assunto
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