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Story: Rattray, Lizzie Frost

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Rattray, Lizzie Frost


Journalist, suffragist, welfare worker

This biography, written by Theresa B. Graham, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

Lizzie Frost Fenton was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 22 March 1855, the daughter of Mary Lister and her husband, John Albert Fenton, an Anglican clergyman. She was educated in England and France, then returned to New Zealand to settle with her family in Oamaru.

In 1880 Lizzie Fenton moved to Auckland and took charge of the Young Women's Institute, a forerunner of the YWCA. In Auckland on 1 March 1883 she married William Rattray, a prominent Auckland draper. William was honorary secretary of the St John Ambulance Association and Lizzie shared her husband's involvement. She organised a street collection which raised the first funds of about £500 towards the purchase of the association's premises in Rutland Street.

A prominent member of St Luke's Anglican Church, Lizzie Rattray was an enthusiastic and able worker for a variety of welfare organisations. These included the St Barnabas' Association and Order of the Good Shepherd, and the Girls' Friendly Society which gave assistance to girls and young women immigrating to Auckland.

The winner of several prizes in short story competitions and an artist of 'considerable ability' who exhibited with the Auckland Society of Arts, Lizzie Rattray became one of New Zealand's earliest women journalists. For some years she was the New Zealand correspondent for the Gentlewoman magazine, and in 1892 Henry Brett invited her to assist with his New Zealand Graphic. Later, she became the journal's social editor and was able to use her position to influence the lives of women. Not only were there pages on fashion and social etiquette, but also discussions concerning controversial feminist issues such as the franchise and the involvement of women in a wider range of occupations and sporting activities. Although she was not associated with the temperance movement, Rattray condemned the effects on marriage of the 'terrible vice of intemperance'.

In 1892 Lizzie Rattray was elected to the committee of the Auckland branch of the Women's Franchise League. Her friend and close associate, Amey Daldy, was president. Rattray described members of the Auckland committee as 'mostly quiet, domesticated women, who would have preferred to still blush unseen at their own firesides, had not a burning sense of the injustice done to their sex by the one-sidedness of the present suffrage laws driven them to make an effort to obtain their rights'. She spoke publicly on women's employment, education and the justice of the franchise cause.

In June 1892 she proposed that men be allowed to sit on the league's committee and five were subsequently appointed. On 11 August 1893 Rattray and others presented to the House of Representatives a petition calling for the enfranchisement of women. In countering arguments against the entry of women into politics, she contended that 'Woman as she is may not be physically or morally capable of filling office…but neither would it be expected that a man just released from long imprisonment would find the same facility in running a mile as the trained athlete.' She believed that younger women, whose minds had been allowed to develop, would be more fit to govern.

An influential Auckland citizen with a reputation as a compelling speaker, writer, administrator and social activist, Lizzie Rattray died in Parnell, Auckland, on 12 August 1931. She was survived by her husband and two sons.

How to cite this page:

Theresa B. Graham. 'Rattray, Lizzie Frost', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2r4/rattray-lizzie-frost (accessed 4 October 2023)