September 13th, 1933 – New Zealand’s First Female MP

Today-In-History

New Zealand was the first modern democracy to stop banning women from voting in 1893, and on September 13th, 1933 the country witnessed Elizabeth McCombs becoming the first woman elected to the New Zealand Parliament.

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Elizabeth Reid McCombs (née Henderson, November 19th, 1873 – June 7th, 1935)

McCombs ran as a Labour Party candidate on a socialist platform. Her political views were influenced by her elder sisters who were advocates for women’s rights with the Progressive Liberal Association. Her husband James McCombs, whom she married in 1903, was also a strong socialist who had also been involved with the Progressive Liberal Association. Active in left-wing politics, James McCombs also served as a Member of Parliament under Social Democratic Party and later, when the Labour Party was founded in 1916, he became its first president.

In 1921, McCombs gained election to the Christchurch City Council, being the second woman to do so. She remained a member of the council until 1935, when she chose to step down. During this time, she was also active in a large number of other organizations, including hospital boards and charities. Her work was recognized in 1926, when she was made a Justice of the peace.

In the 1928 elections, Elizabeth McCombs stood (unsuccessfully) for the Kaiapoi electorate, as the Labour Party’s first female nominee. In the 1931 elections, she contested the seat of Christchurch North, also unsuccessfully.

On the death in August 1933 of McCombs’ husband James, who had held his parliamentary seat of Lyttelton since 1913, it was suggested that Elizabeth McCombs herself should be the Labour Party’s new candidate for the Lyttelton seat. Some members of the party were initially hesitant, but she was eventually selected as the Labour candidate. When the 1933 by-election was held, McCombs won resoundingly: James had been returned by only 32 votes in the 1931 elections, but Elizabeth received a majority of 2600 votes, electing her the first woman Member of Parliament.


 

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