Feminist and social worker.
A new biography of Atkinson, Lily May appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Lily May Atkinson was born in Auckland on 29 March 1866. Her father, Thomas Kirk, was a distinguished botanist and her mother was a prominent social worker. She was educated in Wellington at the Greenwood School and became a teacher. At an early age she joined in social work with her mother and sisters, Amy and Cybele, who were among the first women Justices of the Peace and hospital board visitors in the country. She taught English to Chinese emigrants, and reading and domestic science to factory girls, and, as a member of the Ladies' Christian Association, cared for the welfare of emigrant girls. A staunch temperance supporter, she held local and Dominion office for the Women's Christian Temperance Union and served the cause as a travelling public speaker. She led the women's suffrage campaign in Wellington, chairing and addressing meetings throughout the province. A foundation member of the National Council of Women, Lily Atkinson was president of the Wellington branch till 1904, and was instrumental in the Council's revival in 1917. Among her many social activities were those connected with the Society for the Protection of Women and Children, of which she was co-founder, the Plunket Society, and the Kindergarten movement. On 11 May 1900 she married Arthur Richmond Atkinson, nephew of Sir Harry Atkinson. She died at Wellington on 19 July 1921 and was survived by her husband and one daughter.
Lily Atkinson is an outstanding example of the group of New Zealand women who emerged into public life at the end of the nineteenth century and involved themselves wholeheartedly in every kind of social reform movement. Much humanitarian legislation and many social and educational reforms can be traced to their activities.
by Patricia Ann Grimshaw, M.A., Auckland.
- Evening Post, 20 Jul 1921 (Obit).