Anna Paterson Logan was born at Ferntree Cottage, Royal Terrace, Dunedin, New Zealand, on 29 September 1858, the daughter of Jessie Alexander Pollock and her husband, John Logan. Her Scottish parents had settled in Dunedin in 1854, and at the time of Anna's birth John Logan was clerk to the superintendent of the Otago province.
Anna Logan was brought up in a comfortable yet questioning family, with a keen sense of social and personal duty. John and Jessie Logan belonged to the temperance and freethought movements; they believed in the development of individual human potential and the perfectibility of society. When she was 12 Anna sat and passed the entrance examination to the Girls' Provincial School. The high standards of womanly propriety and service set by the first headmistress, Margaret Burn, gave Anna ideals by which she measured her own and others' behaviour for the rest of her life. These ideals, Anna claimed in 1921, were 'devoid of all snobbery, and were founded upon a clear estimate of the value of character and strength of purpose necessary to the attainment of true womanhood.'
After leaving school Anna lived at home until, in Dunedin on 27 December 1876, aged 18, she married Robert Stout, a 32-year-old barrister and member of the House of Representatives. Robert, a fellow Scot, had been a frequent visitor and had discussed freethought and the problems of the world with the Logans; he had strong opinions and was a supporter of women's rights. Anna accompanied Robert to Wellington for the 1877 Parliamentary session. He became attorney general in March 1878.
Neither Robert's political career nor his legal practice progressed smoothly. Anna had to get used to moves between Dunedin and Wellington and a family life punctuated by financial and professional crises. Between 1878 and 1894 she gave birth to six children whom she cared for with the assistance of domestic staff. She supported her husband in his political career – a particularly demanding task when he was premier from 1884 to 1887 – and developed her own political and social views.
Anna Stout's beliefs were strongly influenced by her husband and by his mentor and friend, Duncan MacGregor. The two men followed a liberal creed of individualism, progress through education, sexual equality and independence. Prohibition and social purity were also important goals in the social policy that Robert and Anna shared.
Anna Stout's philosophy was that women should have equal rights with men and be free to develop their intellectual ability to its highest capacity. Women had a right to take part in the life and work of the colony, but she initially believed that most women would exercise this right through their influence on husbands and children. Family and domestic responsibilities, which Anna put first, limited what she could do for herself and for the women's movement.
Although she had joined the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1885, it was not until the 1890s that she began to play a tentative, independent public role. In April 1892 she was elected president of the Women's Franchise League in Dunedin; the active leadership was provided by Marion Hatton. Early in 1895 Eva McLaren, corresponding secretary of the International Council of Women, approached Stout to preside over a New Zealand branch. She hesitated because of her family duties, her poor hearing and indifferent health. Although she finally agreed to accept the presidency if Kate Sheppard became secretary and did the work, Anna Stout was not elected to the position when the National Council of Women of New Zealand was established at a Christchurch convention in 1896. Instead she became a vice president with Kate Sheppard as president. The following year she had a public dispute with the council over the venue of the annual convention and did not attend, although scheduled to present a paper on the responsibilities of parents. With this defection Stout weakened her links to the main body of politically active women. The estrangement was a pity because she had much in common with the women of the National Council, and if she had remained with the organisation both it and she may have benefited.
Anna Stout attended the 1896 convention of women as the representative of the Southern Cross Society, a Wellington organisation she had helped found. The society aimed at educating women politically, promoting their independence and equality, and improving the living conditions of women who worked for wages. Stout's agenda in such organisations was to achieve gradual social and political change. Her view was that women must learn to understand political institutions and political economy before they could criticise governments. Men and women, she believed, should receive equal pay for equal work, but if women could not compete in an occupation with men they must be prepared to leave it. Women should sit in Parliament, but only when they were equally qualified with men, and women should vote for politicians whose private and public characters were without stain.
As part of the advancement of women, and hence of society, Anna Stout supported the social purity movement, popular among women reformers in England and America as well as New Zealand. The movement aimed at the acceptance of a single code of sexual behaviour – 'a white life for two' – which, it was thought, would combat the problems of physical degeneration (commonly attributed to sexually transmitted diseases) and unhappy marriages. Stout also helped to found the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women and Children in 1897.
In 1899 Robert Stout became chief justice and Anna Stout's voice was once again silenced. It would have been a breach of propriety for her to have taken a lead in social or political matters. Her next chance for independence came in 1909 when she and Robert took their children to England. When Robert returned to New Zealand in 1910, Anna remained in England, where her children were studying, for a further two years. The British suffrage movement was going through a period of intense activity on the streets and in Parliament. As a representative of women voters, she was an object of curiosity and of use to the British campaigners.
Freed from the constraints of her New Zealand role, while still enjoying its status, Anna Stout aligned herself with the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant wing of British suffragism founded by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in 1903. In October 1909 Adela Pankhurst, in the WSPU newspaper Votes for Women, described Stout as a 'charming lady' with 'a boundless enthusiasm and a beautiful devotion to the cause of womanhood'. Stout had reassured her interviewer that the vote had not led New Zealand women to neglect their domestic duties, that women were as patriotic as men, that they had voted safely and that their votes had led to legislation improving the position of women and children. Replying to The Times's anti-suffrage correspondents became one of Anna Stout's responsibilities. Her most notable encounter was with Lord Glasgow, who as governor of New Zealand had signed the legislation giving women the vote. Glasgow's claim that women's suffrage was a disaster, she asserted, insulted all the women of New Zealand.
Anna Stout's articles appeared in Votes for Women and the Englishwoman and were republished as leaflets and pamphlets by several suffrage associations. Because New Zealand was a world leader in women's suffrage, its example was looked to by both supporters and opponents of the vote. Stout felt ardently that if the world were to be reformed, it would be through the political power of women. She argued that in New Zealand the women's vote had never been a 'sex vote', but was won and exercised in harmony and co-operation with the men's vote. She refuted claims that women had not wanted the vote and did not use it, and that the women's vote had led to a decline in the birth rate and to economic ruin. Suffragists of all persuasions found her an appealing advocate.
London was a personal liberation for Stout. Not only did she engage in public controversy, but she marched through the streets behind WSPU banners and appeared on platforms in huge demonstrations in Hyde Park. Her papers, bequeathed to the Hocken Library, show the importance to her of this phase of her life.
Returning to Wellington, aged 54, Anna Stout settled into the role of a prominent club woman, taking part in the English-Speaking Union, the Wellington Pioneer Club, the Wellington Lyceum Club, the Wellington Women's Club, and, during the war, the Women's National Reserve of New Zealand. In 1917 she was involved in the revival of the National Council of Women and after the war became a member of the League of Nations Union of New Zealand. She occasionally engaged in public debates over the role of women. In 1917 she opposed proposals to emphasise domestic training in the education of girls. More controversially, in 1918, she led a protest campaign against a police raid on a Wellington house and the subsequent trial of five women for allegedly running a brothel. Her main concern was that putting the women on trial while the men involved went free perpetuated the old double standard. In 1922, at the height of a wave of concern over the incidence of venereal disease, Anna Stout, fearing the reintroduction of compulsory medical examination of women suspected of prostitution, published a pamphlet opposing medical authorities who were demanding compulsory notification of the disease. Both campaigns showed Stout consistently following her belief in sexual equality.
Through the 1920s Anna Stout suffered from poor health and became less and less active. Her husband died on 19 July 1930 and she survived him by less than a year. She died on 10 May 1931 at Hanmer Springs, aged 72. She had led a life at the cutting edge of change in women's public role. As a woman of social standing and political influence, she was strategically placed to negotiate for women's advancement and this she had done, publicly when she could, and at other times privately.