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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.


McCOMBS, Elizabeth Reid


First woman member of Parliament.

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

Elizabeth Reid McCombs was born at Woodend, Kaiapoi, on 4 November 1873, the daughter of Daniel Henderson. She was educated at the Christchurch West School and at the Christchurch Girls' High School. Soon after leaving school she began to take a lively interest in social and political questions. She was secretary of the Canterbury Children's Aid Society, and a member of the executive of the Canterbury Progressive Liberal Association. In 1903 she married James McCombs who was member of Parliament for Lyttelton from 1913 to 1933, first as a Social Democrat and, later, as a member of the Labour Party.

Mrs McCombs was an ardent prohibitionist and was president of the Canterbury section of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, as well as being Dominion treasurer of the union. She took an active part in local government, being elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1921 and remaining a councillor till shortly before her death. In 1927 she was made chairman of the Electricity Committee and proved an excellent administrator, reducing the cost of electricity to the consumer. She was also elected to the North Canterbury Hospital Board (1921) and the Tramways Board (1927).

In 1928 she contested unsuccessfully for Labour the Kaiapoi seat, and in 1931 the Christchurch North seat. On the death of her husband in August 1933 she was returned for the Lyttelton electorate by a large majority as the first woman member of Parliament. In Parliament her main interests were the status and welfare of women and children. Her health unfortunately deteriorated, and she died at Christchurch on 7 June 1935.

Mrs McCombs was a good speaker and a conscientious worker in all the causes in which she was interested. She had two children – a daughter and a son, Terence Henderson McCombs, who succeeded her as member for Lyttelton and who was Minister of Education from 1947 to 1949.

Press (Christchurch), 8 Jun 1935 (Obit).

by James Oakley Wilson, D.S.C., M.COM., A.L.A., Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.


James Oakley Wilson, D.S.C., M.COM., A.L.A., Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.