BUT I CHANGED ALL THAT: ‘First’ New Zealand women, by Jane Tolerton

By Jane Tolerton | Posted: Sunday September 30, 2018

But I Changed All That is a collection of New Zealand women ‘firsts’ – from 1893 to 2018. The 76-page book, put out to commemorate the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, contains portraits of ‘first’ New Zealand women, with extended captions, including a quote from each subject.

It opens with Kate Sheppard, the first woman in the world to successfully run a campaign for national women’s suffrage, and closes with Jacinda Ardern and Katie Milne, first woman president of Federated Farmers.

It includes ‘the obvious suspects’ of politics. The first woman MP was Elizabeth McCombs, elected for Labour in Lyttelton in 1933, following the death of her husband, James, who had gained the seat by 32 votes in the previous election; her majority was 2600. Similarly, the first Maori woman MP, Iriaka Ratana stood for Labour in Western Maori in a by-election after the death of her husband in 1949 – even though she was pregnant with her ninth child. She was the highest-polling candidate in New Zealand in the next election, in 1951.

New Zealand’s first woman Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, is seen planting trees with Auckland schoolchildren. Helen Clark, our first elected Prime minister, appears in Karangahape Road late on the night she was elected in 1999.

The first woman Cabinet minister was Labour MP Mabel Howard, in 1947. The first Maori woman Cabinet minister, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, had her first child while an MP, and was the first Cabinet minister in the world to give birth in office when she had her second child in 1974.

Dame Cath Tizard was the first woman governor general, in 1990, having been the first mayor of Auckland. However, the first woman mayor in the British Empire was Elizabeth Yates, elected in Onehunga in the local body elections of November 1893.

Some of the women featured were first in their field in New Zealand. Others are the first New Zealander to have achieved internationally in their field, like Keri Hulme, first New Zealander to win the Booker Prize, and Dame Jane Campion the only New Zealander to win the Grand Prix at Cannes.

Among those featured are rugby player Farah Palmer, referee Nicky Inwood, Bishop Penny Jamieson, cultural safety activist Irihapeti Ramsden, first Maori Women’s Welfare League president Dame Whina Cooper, jockey Linda Jones, firefighter Anne Barry, Olympian Yvette William, television documentary maker Shirley Maddock, painter Frances Hodgkins and writer Katherine Mansfield.

The title comes from singer Dinah Lee. When she became the first New Zealand woman to have a number one hit overseas in 1964, the men in the band told her ‘not to get a big head. To them the girl singer was just a fill-in. But I changed all that. All of a sudden I was going out on my own tours’.

Jane Tolerton is the author of an award-winning Ettie Rout biography, the bestselling oral history Convent Girls, and the 2017 breakthrough book on New Zealand women in World War One, Make Her Praises Heard Afar: New Zealand women overseas in World War One.

Published by Booklovers Books, $18. Contact Jane Tolerton 0272577835 info@booklovers.co.nz

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