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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Women's Organisations

Women's Organisations

Cook County Women's Guild (formed on 29 November, 1907): The promoters were: Mesdames A. Scott, A. Melksham and E. West. Mrs. J. Townley was the first president and Mrs. Scott the first secretary. Application for incorporation was made on 27 May, 1908. A two-roomed daytime shelter for neglected children was opened in Grey Street on 1 July, 1908. The Elizabeth Townley Maternity Hospital, built by the Guild in 1910 on a two-acre site in Childers Road provided by the State, became a St. Helen's Maternity Hospital. A large Children's Home was erected in 1913 at a cost of £1,725 on a site of two acres in Awapuni Road donated by Lady Carroll (one acre), Eruera te Kura (half-acre) and Wetini Rikirangi (half-acre), and, in honour of Lady Carroll, her maiden name, Heni Materoa, was adopted for its designation. In 1945 members of the Rotary Club of Gisborne subscribed the amount needed to enable the Guild to buy a site of 6½ acres, with a frontage to Upper Gladstone Road, for a new Children's Home, which is estimated to cost £10,000.

Dickens Club (September, 1931): R. Johnson was the first president and Mrs. J. Pirie first secretary.

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Crippled Children's Society, Gisborne Branch (sponsored by the Rotary Club on 27 March, 1935): President, F. W. Nolan; Welfare Officer, Mrs. A. P. Dickson. The society's district extends from East Cape to Nuhaka. Several hundred cases have already been treated, chiefly at Cook Hospital, special cases being sent on to Wellington.

Girl Guide Movement, Gisborne Branch (1925): Mrs. D. J. Davies was Guider in charge of the first company. The first camp was held in January, 1926, at “Rimuroa.” In 1935 Rotorua, Katikati, Tauranga, Taupo, Wairoa and Gisborne were included in a “Poverty Bay Guide Province,” with Gisborne for its headquarters, and Mrs. L. Balfour as Provincial Commissioner. Rotorua was retransferred to “Auckland Guide Province” in 1947. Miss W. Lysnar (Provincial Camp Adviser, 1935–46) was the first Poverty Bay recipient of the Good Service Badge. Over £1,000 was subscribed by Guides and friends in the Poverty Bay area towards the cost of the national training centre at Marton. District Commissioners: Mesdames R. Barker, R. M. Gunn, F. B. Barker, C. C. Dowding, E. A. Muis, C. Blackburn, R. Andrew, J. McDonald, J. Bray and L. Balfour (1935–).

Gisborne Business and Professional Women's Club (1925): Mrs. L. T. Burnard was the first president, and Miss McShane the first secretary. Miss Perry, M.A., was the first chairwoman. Mrs. Hugh Jones was president from 1928 till 1946. Her successor was Mrs. Garbett.

Gisborne Townswomen's Guild (August, 1935): The sponsor was Miss Jerome Spencer, O.B.E., of Rissington (Hawke's Bay), who founded the movement in New Zealand. Mrs. M. Verrier-Jones was the first chairwoman, and Mrs. F. R. Bould the first secretary. Groups were formed as under: Drama, musical, arts and crafts, gardening, literary and debating, and dressmaking.

Gisborne Women's Club (17 October, 1912): Mrs. (Dr.) Reeve was the first president and Mesdames W. F. J. Anderson and T. A. Crawford became joint secretaries. Literary, gardening, cards and arts and crafts circles were established. During both Great Wars members made many articles required by the soldiers and associated themselves with various movements to promote the interests of wives and children of servicemen. The membership in 1949 was about 100.

Lady Galway League: The Gisborne branch was wound up on 31 October, 1946, after functioning successfully for over six years. Mrs. N. H. Bull, M.B.E., was patron, Mrs. G. Robertson, M.B.E., president, and Mrs. Cowing hon, secretary. Its members sent 300 cases of new clothing and mended garments to the British Women's Volunteer Service for distribution among bombed-out families in England.

National Council of Women, Poverty Bay Branch (September, 1894): Its initial title was “The Gisborne Women's Political Association.” Mrs. M. H. Sievwright, who had been in the forefront of the women's franchise movement, was the sponsor. On 12 April, 1901, a “Council of Waiapu Women” was established (Waiapu, at that time, was the name of the electorate of which Gisborne was the chief centre). Mrs. (Canon) Fox was its first president and Mrs. Sievwright secretary. In 1902 Mrs. Sievwright became president, and Miss Sampson secretary. The branch was re-formed on 11 April, 1917, with Mrs. N. F. Walker as president and Misses Sandall and Spence as joint secretaries.


Mrs. Margaret Home Sievwright was born in Scotland in 1844, taught in a Ragged School in Edinburgh, and then trained as a nurse under Florence Nightingale. So many cases of misery among women came under her notice that she dedicated her life to the movement for the emancipation page 430 of women. Settling in Gisborne in 1883, she quickly won the respect and admiration of the townsfolk. Although she was a shy and intensely sensitive woman, her love of humanity amounted to a passion. Untiringly, she worked for a day when—to quote her own words—“united womanhood would stand for the extinction of poverty, ignorance, vice, crime, cruelty to man and beast, idleness, war, slavery, intemperance and selfishness.” The Countess of Aberdeen delegated to her the task of establishing a National Council of Women for New Zealand. She formed branches in Gisborne and in other centres. At the date of her death (9 March, 1905) she had been Dominion president for seven years. In the official history of the National Council of Women the following paragraph appears: “Mrs. Sievwright, to whom the people of Gisborne have erected a memorial [a drinking fountain] was outstanding in grace of person and manner and that elusive quality called personality. She must have come from a long line of Utopian dreamers.”

Plunket Society, Gisborne Branch (8 August, 1912): Mrs. C. A. de Lautour was the first president and Mesdames W. F. J. Anderson and W. Reeve joint secretaries. Messrs. J. Blair, W. F. Cederwall, G. M. Dodgshun, F. Parker, Dr. W. Reeve and Dr. Carlyle Wilson acted as an Advisory Board. Miss D. Bagnall has held the secretaryship since 1929. Mrs. Wynne Harrold (formerly a Plunket Nurse at Timaru) assisted mothers voluntarily and independent of the branch until August, 1913, when Miss Craig became the first resident Plunket Nurse. Sub-branches: Te Karaka (formed in 1926), Tolaga Bay (1931), Manutuke (1934) and Tokomaru Bay (1937). The Plunket Rooms in Gisborne (which cost only £532) were opened on 16 July, 1934. Two nurses are now employed and rooms are also conducted at Te Hapara.

Poverty Bay and East Coast Children's Health Camp Committee (23 September, 1935): H. Holmes (deputy-mayor) was elected chairman. For some months Dr. H. Turbott (District Health Officer) and Sister E. W. T. Pritchard, M.B.E., had been sending children in need of treatment to Otaki Children's Camp. As parents disapproved of their children being sent so far from home, the old stewards' stand on Park Domain was secured for a Children's Camp. The building, with some furniture, was mysteriously destroyed by fire on the eve of the intended opening day. St. Helen's Hospital was then made available by Cook Hospital Board and equipped with the help of wellwishers. The first camp (20 children) was opened on 12 November, 1937.

As St. Helen's Hospital was required to be vacated in 1939, the trustees of the King George Memorial Fund made a grant to enable a permanent camp to be established. A portion of Park Domain was secured, and, on 11 October, 1941, the camp was opened. During 1946–47, 236 children, including some from as far afield as Whakatane and Wairoa, passed through the institution. In 1947 it was decided that the camp should remain open all the year round instead of only during the summer months. The cost of conducting it is about £2,000 per annum. Members of the first executive still associated with the movement in 1949 were: Mr. H. Holmes (as chairman), Mrs. G. A. Nicholls and Messrs. A. Cassin, H. H. de Costa and W. Ogilvie.

Poverty Bay Women's Division of Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Incorp.), formerly the Women's Division of the New Zealand Farmers' Union (March, 1936): Initial officers—President, Mrs. Theo. Field; secretary, Miss A. Field; provincial housekeeping secretary, Mrs. Allan Morrison. Branches: Muriwai, Waimata, Te Arai, Ngatapa, Waerenga-o-Kuri and “Hill Country.”

Poverty Bay Representative Committee (April, 1939): Established to aid in any national emergency, and also to promote page 431 any work pertaining to the welfare of women and children, this committee comprises a representative from each of the women's organisations in the district. The first chairwoman was Mrs. W. McCliskie, and Mrs. G. A. Nicholls was the first secretary. Mrs. P. Hockley became chairwoman in 1941. Miss N. Cotterill, who took over the secretaryship in 1940, received the B.E.M. award for her wartime services.

Victoria League, Poverty Bay Branch (1913): During the first Great War, members made street appeals and conducted a shop to collect funds for the British Red Cross Society and for the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England. Upon Mrs. Henry White's suggestion, the district was subdivided into 12 sub-districts, each of which undertook to stock the shop with meat, produce, fruit, cakes, etc., and conduct it once every three months. By March, 1919, when the shop was closed, the branch had raised £18,476, of which the shop returns amounted to £15,834. Prominent among the leaders were Mrs. W. R. Barker (president), Mrs. R. J. Reynolds (president of the Poverty Bay Ladies' League), Mrs. W. G. Sherratt (the mayoress, and the principal organiser of the shop, who was decorated an Officer of the British Empire), Miss A. Gray (hon, secretary), and Mr. C. P. Davies (hon, treasurer).

The branch celebrated the jubilee of the parent body in 1927 by holding a Jubilee Ball, to which the district's pioneers were invited. It has since made a point of entertaining the pioneers and the inmates of the Memorial Home each Empire Day. During the Second World War its members made 19,300 garments for children in bombed-out areas in Britain, 500 “hussifs” for New Zealand servicemen, pyjamas and other garments for soldiers in hospitals, and garments for the Patriotic Shop. A Young Contingent was formed in 1940 to assist in entertaining members of the R.N.Z.A.F. stationed in Gisborne. Much of the success attained by the branch in its earlier years was due to the enthusiasm of Miss A. L. Rees, who was president for 16 years. Roll of presidents: Mrs. W. R. Barker, Mrs. H. Williams, Mrs. E. J. Matthews, Mrs. L. Cotterill, Miss A. L. Rees, Mrs. L. Balfour and Mrs. P. Hockley.


Annie Lee Rees, M.A., LL.B. (a daughter of W. L. Rees) was born at Beechworth (Victoria) and came to New Zealand with her parents in 1866. During the Boer War, she was one of the teachers sent to South Africa, at the request of the British authorities, to teach in the refugee camps. Upon her return, she studied law and gained her LL.B. degree. On 22 September, 1910, she was admitted, at Gisborne, to practice as a barrister and solicitor by Sir F. R. Chapman, whose father (Mr. Justice H. S. Chapman) had admitted her father to the New Zealand Bar in 1866. Miss Rees died on 20 August, 1949.

Women's Christian Temperance Union, Gisborne Branch. The first president was Mrs. (Canon) Webb. From 1899 till 1902 its members conducted a Coffee Room and Reading Room as a meeting place for young men, the object being “to discourage them from drifting into the hotels.” The branch has taken an active part in all social welfare movements. In 1948 Mrs. W. E. Goffe was awarded a Long Service Badge to mark her 30 years' service.

Women's Institutes, Poverty Bay Federation (1 April, 1931): The first Women's Institute was formed at Matawai in May, 1928, by Miss Bibby, of Waipawa. Probably the distinction fell to that district because her mother was an aunt of a resident (Mrs. Smith). In June, 1928, Miss A. E. Jerome Spencer, O.B.E. (founder of the movement in New Zealand) formed an institute at Patutahi. At the first group meeting (1/4/1931), a P.B. Federation of Women's Institute was established, page 432 with Mrs. D. S. Williams, of Ngatapa, as president, and Mrs. W. A. McCliskie as secretary. In 1935 the first Drama Festival and Exhibition of Work was held. A North Island gathering of Women's Institute delegates at Gisborne in 1943 attracted a larger number of visitors to the district than any previous conference had done. There were 33 Women's Institute (including several Maori Women's Institutes), with an aggregate membership of 690, under the Poverty Bay Federation in 1948.

Women's National Reserve (1915): Mrs. J. R. Kirk was the first president, and Miss E. L. Faubert the first secretary. Its activities during the first Great War included the training of members to replace men called up for active service, lectures on first aid and home training, and the entertainment of mothers, wives and children of soldiers abroad. The members sponsored the holding of the commemorative service which is held each Anzac Day beside the Soldiers' Plot at Taruheru Cemetery.

Y.W.C.A., Gisborne Branch (1921): Mrs. R. Johnstone was the first president and Mesdames F. de Lautour and C. G. Holdsworth were joint secretaries. In 1922 there were 354 members—122 under 20 years, 168 over 20 years, and 64 sustaining members. For some years a hostel and cafeteria were conducted. The branch then disbanded.

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Gisborne's handsome War Memorial. (Great War, 1914–18) By courtesy of E. T. Doddrell.

Gisborne's handsome War Memorial. (Great War, 1914–18)
By courtesy of E. T. Doddrell.

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Sir James Carroll in contemplative mood.

Sir James Carroll in contemplative mood.

Te Poho-o-Rawiri Meeting-house, Kaiti, Gisborne.

Te Poho-o-Rawiri Meeting-house, Kaiti, Gisborne.