Page 2: Nelson years
Davies, Sonja Margaret Loveday
Nurse, labour activist, women’s rights activist, politician, peace campaigner
This biography, written by Anne Else, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
Having divorced Lindsay Nathan, Sonja married Charlie Davies (who by then was working as a landscape gardener) at Wellington on Christmas Eve, 1946; but it was late 1947 before she was able to leave hospital and sanatorium care and reclaim her daughter. On medical advice the couple moved to Nelson province. The struggle to build a home and orchard from 14 hectares of scrub at Mariri gave her great happiness, but her health again collapsed. Her life was saved only by the introduction of new antibiotics. The couple sold their land and moved into town in 1953.
In Nelson, Sonja Davies rapidly became active – often as the first or sole woman – in all the linked fields which were to define her public life. She became involved in community concerns, local government, the union movement and the Labour Party, always with a focus on the rights and needs of women and children, and the cause of peace.
In September 1955 there was a public outcry when the National government announced its decision to close the Nelson railway. Davies responded to a call by Ruth Page, a former teacher from Golden Bay, for local women to take action. Their decision to sit on the tracks at Kiwi for six days, culminating in defying an oncoming locomotive, caused outrage. Davies was among the nine women arrested and fined. This led to a seven-year breach with her parents, but made her a local heroine.
Elected to office
In 1956 Davies was the only woman elected to the Nelson Hospital Board, and in 1961 she won a seat on the city council. As a Justice of the Peace, she fought against women JPs being informally blocked from sitting on the magistrates’ bench.
Both Sonja and Charlie had become involved in the Labour Party through their membership of the New Zealand Workers’ Union. By 1955 she was secretary of the regional Labour Representation Committee. Their son Mark, born on 20 July 1957 at Nelson, was six weeks old when she became secretary of the successful campaign to elect Nelson’s first Labour MP, Stan Whitehead.
Davies’s own need for childcare led to her presidency of the Nelson Day Nursery Committee. In 1963 she founded the New Zealand Association for Child Care Centres (later the New Zealand Childcare Association), serving as its president for 13 years. The Early Childhood Workers Union that she began working towards in 1979 was registered in March 1982.