Manawatū and Horowhenua formed part of Wellington province until 1876.
Counties and boroughs
A Manawatū county council was established in 1876 for the region between the Rangitīkei and the Waikanae rivers. But the different areas, including town and country, had varied needs. By 1910 many smaller entities had formed, including a Horowhenua county reaching from Foxton to Waikanae, and a number of boroughs (towns).
In 1989 Foxton and Levin merged into the district of Horowhenua. Feilding joined with Pohangina, Kiwitea, Ōroua and Manawatū counties as Manawatū district. Palmerston North City expanded to include Ashhurst, Whakarongo, and areas across the Manawatū River.
Local politics mostly reflected wider patterns of political allegiance. Flax workers were able to elect the socialist John Robertson for Ōtaki in 1911, because of a brief split in the non-socialist vote (he lost three years later). In 1935 Palmerston North elected its first Labour candidate, Joseph Hodgens, who represented the electorate for the next 11 years. After that the seat alternated between Labour and National. Notable MPs included lawyer Matthew Oram (1943–57) for National and businessman Joe Walding (1967–75; 1978–81) for Labour.
From 1938 increased town populations gave the region one fully urban electorate with a second one following in the 1980s. The redistricting that followed the introduction of MMP (mixed member proportional system) saw a return to one urban seat bounded by two more rural ones.
The whole region was part of the Western Māori electorate until 1954 and of Southern Māori from 1954 to 1984. Since MMP in 1996 the region has been part of Te Tai Hauāuru.
School and scandal
Julia Millen, biographer of teacher and writer Guthrie Wilson (1914–1984), records his successful suing of the Manawatu Daily Times in 1957. The paper’s review of his novel Sweet white wine claimed the work was written in revenge for Wilson’s failure to be made rector (principal) of Palmerston North Boys’ High School. The case divided Palmerston North, and Wilson left the city soon after.
Boys’ and girls’ high schools were established in Palmerston North in the early 1900s. Feilding, Levin and Palmerston North set up technical high schools. In Feilding this evolved into Feilding Agricultural High School, opened by Prime Minister William F. Massey in 1921, and famed for its integrated academic and farming curriculum. At the tertiary level, Palmerston North is presently home to Massey University, a campus of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, International Pacific College, and UCOL, an institute of technology.
A Palmerston North hospital board was set up in 1891, and Horowhenua affiliated in 1918. Two important influences were matrons Ellen Dougherty, (in the early years of the hospital) and Winnifred Train (after the Second World War). Dougherty was one of the first state registered nurses in the world.