Story: Men’s clubs

Page 1. Fraternalism

All images & media in this story

Since the beginning of European settlement in New Zealand, Pākehā men have enjoyed spending time with their mates. Until the late 20th century many work situations were largely male – whether gangs of shearers or firms of stockbrokers. Men also met their mates for man-to-man camaraderie in informal situations such as the pub.

There were many leisure organisations set up exclusively for men. These included rugby and other sporting clubs, troops of volunteer soldiers or fire brigades, and unions; but male friendship was a by-product of these rather than their main purpose. Men’s clubs, by contrast, were set up primarily so that men could socialise with other men.

Types of clubs

Men’s clubs were aimed at a range of social classes. From 1840 to the 1950s the major types of clubs were:

  • gentlemen’s clubs, for the élite
  • workingmen’s clubs, for working men
  • masonic lodges, for Protestants
  • friendly societies for skilled and self-employed men, which also provided sickness and medical benefits.

From the 1940s service clubs, originally founded in the US, spread fast, especially among business and professional men in cities and towns.


These clubs shared certain characteristics. They claimed to be non-political and free of religious prejudice. They were often associated with the consumption of food and alcohol, and tended to have a degree of secret ritual. The clubs were overwhelmingly Pākehā, with few Māori members. They provided significant training in leadership for other social purposes.


From the later 20th century all these clubs had a battle about the admission of women, which threatened the core of their existence. Almost all eventually did admit women, after various disputes, between the 1970s and early 21st century.

Men’s clubs suffered a decline in membership at the end of the 20th century. This reflected:

  • the increasing number of working couples, with men taking a greater part in household duties
  • feminist criticism of exclusively male organisations, and a move away from single-sex socialising
  • alternative forms of leisure entertainment
  • more paid work over the weekend.
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Men’s clubs - Fraternalism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 June 2022)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 22 May 2018