NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN
The National Council of Women was inaugurated in Christchurch in 1896 when Kate Sheppard, a prime mover in the franchise for women movement, gathered together a group of women who, like herself, were concerned with social reforms in general and, in particular, reforms affecting the status and conditions of their sex. She became first president of the council which she formed.
The extent and variety of the reforms advocated by the national council in those early days set an example which modern members of the council have continued to follow. They were concerned with such issues as the introduction of old age pensions, the regulation of hours and conditions of work, the extension of technical education both in primary and in secondary schools, and penal reforms such as the classification of types of criminals, the introduction of the indeterminate sentence, and the abolition of capital punishment. They were also concerned with equal pay, and with compulsory jury service, for women. They also endeavoured to encourage women to serve on local bodies. Later, they turned their attention to advocating the appointment of women as Justices of the Peace and as members of the Police.
This organisation continued its work until 1910, when it went into recess. In 1917 it was revived on a somewhat different basis. Since that date it has been a coordinating body comprising representatives of a number of women's organisations and organised into a series of local branches. The first branch was established at Wellington, followed shortly by the formation of branches at Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Gisborne. The number of branches has now grown to 33. There is a wide variety of women's groups affiliated to the local branches and, at the national level, 23 nationally organised women's societies are affiliated to the National Council of Women. Since 1900 the New Zealand national council has been affiliated to the International Council of Women, New Zealand being represented at the last triennial conference held in 1960 in Turkey.
The national council has continued its traditional concern for social reforms, particularly for the welfare of women. The reforms advocated include the representation of mothers on the Maternity Service Committee of the Board of Health, the appointment of women to parole boards, the enforcement of the Indecent Publications Act, and, continuously, the admission of women to jury service on the same basis as men. Other matters that have received attention in New Zealand have been the censorship of films for television, housing conditions for single women, the formation of the Intellectually Handicapped Children's Parents Association, the improvement of education, and the raising of the standard of teacher training. The National Council of Women has also joined with other organisations in condemning the testing of nuclear weapons and in protesting on this issue to the Government.
In 1961 the national magazine, New Zealand Women in Council, was superseded by the publication Women's Viewpoint.
by Pamela Somers Cocks, M.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Archivist, Wellington.