Page 1: Biography
Community worker, local politician, feminist
This biography, written by Megan Hutching, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Emily Herbert was born in Burnley, Lancashire, England, on 1 April 1873, the daughter of Amanda Mary Ramsbottom and her husband, George Herbert, a tailor. Little is known of her early life, but she married Charles Evans Maguire, a doctor, in Blackpool on 28 March 1899. Charles had worked in the Colonial medical service in West Africa before his marriage, and some time afterwards he returned there with his wife. He was later transferred to Fiji and then Tonga, where he was chief medical officer. The Maguires came to New Zealand in 1911, after Charles was appointed senior medical officer at Auckland Hospital. He was promoted to medical superintendent in 1913.
During the First World War Emily Maguire became involved in many patriotic organisations, while her husband spent a year serving in military hospitals in the Middle East. She was in charge of the entertainment committee of the Auckland Women’s Patriotic League, and was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the YMCA and the Navy League. For her work she received a service medal from the league, and was appointed an MBE in 1919. She was also interested in politics and was a member of the Auckland Civic League founded by Ellen Melville in 1913. A feminist group, the league’s aims were to provide a voice for women on local and national issues, but especially to increase the number of women holding public office by encouraging them to stand for local bodies.
Emily Maguire was appointed to one of two vacancies that occurred on the Auckland City Council in December 1918. The council decided that rather than hold by-elections so close to the next election due in April 1919, the two leading unsuccessful candidates from the previous election would be appointed. As one of these candidates had died, Emily Maguire was nominated instead. The mayor, James Gunson, considered that in appointing her, the council ‘would be showing its appreciation of the heroic work of the women of Auckland during the recent [influenza] epidemic’.
She was made a member of the Reserves Committee soon after joining the council in 1918. Minutes record her saying that a by-law should be introduced prohibiting spitting on trams or in the street, and commenting on matters such as the provision of tram shelters or seats in parks. Emily was re-elected in 1919 on the ‘Old Councillors’ ticket as a nominee of the Civic League, and in 1921 with endorsement from the Progressive Citizens group and the Protestant Political Association. She retired as a councillor in 1923 as she intended to go on an overseas trip.
Described as a ‘brilliant speaker and a very capable platform debater’, Emily Maguire was always willing to lend her support to women’s causes and often spoke to mothers’ groups about maternal and child welfare. Believing that all children should receive equal educational opportunities, she was one of the founders of the Myers Free Kindergarten, chaired the organisation for many years, and eventually became a life member. She was also the first secretary of the Auckland Hospital Auxiliary, which undertook major fund-raising campaigns.
In 1928 Maguire stood for Parliament for the conservative Reform Party in the Auckland East seat. Throughout her campaign she supported Reform’s policies on reducing the cost of living and creating employment through intensive land settlement, but also emphasised her personal commitment to the advancement of women and access of all to education and health care. Reform did not poll well, and received only 33 per cent of the vote; Emily’s results reflected those of the party: she gained only 21.6 per cent of the vote in Auckland East and failed to be elected. After the election she continued her involvement in community and philanthropic work. She supported the Victoria League, of which she was a life member, and made attempts to found a branch of the English-Speaking Union in Auckland.
In 1938 Charles Maguire, who had been superintendent of the Auckland Infirmary since 1932, retired. That year the Maguires left for England, where Emily intended to visit many women’s organisations and institutions in which she was interested. However, Charles’s illness and death at Battersea in June 1939 prevented her from carrying this out. She returned to New Zealand later that year and appears to have taken little further part in public life.
Emily Maguire died on 9 August 1961 in Auckland. She was survived by a daughter. She was typical of many married women who, in lieu of pursuing a career, put their energies into promoting social and political causes.