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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
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.


MULLER, Mary Ann


Early feminist.

A new biography of Müller, Mary Anne appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Mary Ann Muller, née Wilson, was born in England in 1820, but little is known about her parentage, education, or early life. In 1842, in London, she married James Whitney Griffiths and about 1849, when her husband died, she decided to emigrate to New Zealand. She came out in the Pekin with her two small sons, arriving at Nelson in January 1850. She taught at Nelson for two years. On 5 December 1851, at Christ's Church, Nelson, she married Stephen Lunn Muller (1814–91), a surgeon whom she had met on the Pekin. For some years before coming to New Zealand she had been impressed by the extent of legal discrimination against women. In Nelson she became acquainted with many of the influential political men of the day and frequently discussed women's rights with them. Some of these, notably Domett, Stafford, Fox, and Saunders, were sympathetic, but others, like Monro and her husband, strongly disapproved of her ideas. Because her husband was a member of the Nelson Provincial Council and Resident Magistrate, she was unable to expound her ideas publicly; however, she found a welcome ally in Charles Elliott, editor of the Nelson Examiner, who arranged for her to publish anonymous contributions in his paper. At the same time she lobbied her political friends and in 1860 had the satisfaction of seeing some of her views incorporated in the Married Women's Property Act. In 1869 she published, under the nom de plume “Femina”, An Appeal to the Men of New Zealand. This pamphlet created considerable interest both in New Zealand and abroad and drew an encouraging letter from John Stuart Mill. About the same time she began a useful correspondence on women's rights with Clementia Taylor, the secretary of the London Emancipation Society. In New Zealand the Married Women's Property Act of 1870 gave expression to many of her ideas.

Although unable to campaign openly in the women's cause, Mary Ann Muller exerted considerable influence to create a climate of opinion favourable to women's rights and, in particular, towards the Women's Suffrage movement. In this respect she anticipated the movement's activities by at least 30 years. For many years her political activities were not widely known and it was not until December 1898, when a notice appeared in the White Ribbon, that the knowledge became public. After her second husband's death Mary Ann Muller lived at Old Amersfoort, Blenheim, where she died on 18 July 1901.

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

  • Outlines of the Women's Franchise Movement in New Zealand, Smith, W. S. (1905).


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