CUNNINGTON, Eveline Willett
Social worker and feminist.
A new biography of Cunnington, Eveline Willett appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Eveline Willett Cunnington was born in Wales on 23 April 1849 the twelfth daughter of Mary (née Willet) and Valentine Leach, a landed proprietor of Denvizes, Wiltshire. She was educated at Queen's College, London, and in 1875 emigrated to New Zealand In 1883, after the death of Cabel Baines, her first husband, she married an engineer, Herbert James Cunnington, of Christchurch, and commenced then her social reform work which lasted till her death. Under the influence of the feminist movement she agitated for the abolition of the Criminal Diseases Act, for the raising of the age of consent for girls, for the women's suffrage, and for the entry of women to Parliament.
Concerning the National Council of Women, which she helped to found in 1896, she advocated particularly the introduction of women police and the right of women to serve as justices and jurors, for which causes she undertook a large amount of letter writing and public speaking. In 1896 she and Eliza Collings of Auckland were appointed the first women prison visitors in New Zealand. A sincere Christian socialist, Eveline Cunnington founded at Christchurch in 1896 the first Fabian society in the country. In regular correspondence with the English Fabian Society she wrote Fabian notes for the Lyttelton Times and contributed socialist articles to the Maoriland Worker till her death. Another large interest in her life was the question of adult education. Early in the 1900s she began holding classes for young adults and encouraged the girls to study seriously a wide variety of subjects. She was the prime mover in the foundation of the Workers' Educational Association in 1915. Eveline Cunnington died at Sumner, Christchurch, on 30 July 1916.
A woman of most forceful personality, Eveline Cunnington wielded considerable influence in the many spheres to which she turned her attention She lived to see the success of much of her work, particularly with regard to the position of women, and the development of adult education. Her influence on the early labour movement of the country. though difficult to assess, need not be considered any less significant.
by Patricia Ann Grimshaw, M.A., Auckland.
- The Press (Christchurch), 31 Jul 1916 (Obit).