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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


GILMER, Dame Elizabeth May, D.B.E.


Social worker.

A new biography of Gilmer, Elizabeth May appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Elizabeth May Gilmer was born in Kumara, Westland, on 24 March 1880, the seventh daughter of the Right Hon. R. J. Seddon and of Louisa Jane, née Spotswood. She was educated at the Kumara School and at Wellington Girls' College and passed the Civil Service Examinations on two occasions. Her first introduction to social work came when she assisted in collecting for Mother Aubert's Homes of Compassion and, about the same time, was active in organising for the Wellington City Mission. During the Boer War she was a member of the “Women's Contingent” and accompanied her parents when they visited the New Zealand troops in South Africa. She served on several women's patriotic organisations during the First World War; and, during the Second, was chairman of the Lady Galway Guild and an executive member of the Women's War Service Auxiliary and the Loans and National Savings Committees. For these and other services she was awarded in 1946 the O.B.E. and the medal of the Greek Red Cross.

In addition to her patriotic services Dame Elizabeth devoted considerable time to local and educational bodies. She was a member of the Wellington Hospital Board from 1938 to 1953 and, as a result of her encouragement, the hospital developed the most up-to-date maternity service in New Zealand. Her interest in nurses' welfare led to improvements being made in the conditions under which they worked. From 1934 to 1957 she was the Government nominee on the Wellington Colleges' Board of Governors and, afterwards, served on the Wellington Post-primary Schools' Council. She also played a prominent part in the Secondary School Boards' Association. In 1942 she was elected to the Wellington City Council, where she served for 11 years, being chairman of the Libraries and Parks and Reserves Committees.

Dame Elizabeth was interested in many cultural, charitable, and sports organisations and, at different times, held office in most of them. Among these may be included the Social Club for the Blind, the YWCA, the Crippled Children's Society, CORSO, the Save the Children Fund, the Plunket Society (Wellington Branch), the Wellington Free Kindergarten Society, the Tuberculosis Association, the Forest and Bird Society, the United Nations Association, the Wellington Harmonic Society, the Wellington Operatic and Dramatic Society, the British Music Society, the New Zealand Libraries Association, and various women's social and sports clubs. She was a member of the Wellington Branch of the National Council of Women and represented New Zealand at the international council's conference at Lugano, Switzerland, in 1949.

Throughout her life Dame Elizabeth took a deep interest in horticulture. She was an F.R.Hort.S. (England) and a member and office holder in similar organisations in New Zealand. She worked hard to secure the passing of the Native Plant Protection Act and the reinstatement of Arbor Day. A keen gardener herself, she won the Bledisloe Cup for her roses in 1936 and the Loder Cup for native flora in 1938. Dame Elizabeth stood for Parliament in 1935 and 1938 but declined to accept nomination for any political party. She was awarded Coronation Medals in 1937 and 1953 and, in 1951, was created D.B.E.

On 3 July 1907, at St Paul's Church, Thorndon, Wellington, she married Knox Gilmer (1879–1921). She had two daughters. Dame Elizabeth died at Wellington on 29 February 1960.

After her death, the Dominion summed up Dame Elizabeth in these words: “Unselfish service marked her life. She gave unstintingly of her time and energy, modestly explaining her industry with the remark, “I was brought up by parents whose whole object was service, and I have tried to follow that upbringing'. She succeeded magnificently”.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Dominion, 1 Mar 1960 (Obit and Edit.)
  • Evening Post, 29 Feb 1960 (Obit).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.