A fascination with rocks and fossils led Rosemary to the study of geology and zoology. She was the first New Zealand woman to undertake her own research programme in Antarctica. Before Rosemary, Antarctic research was an exclusively male domain, but her research skills and fortitude in the harsh Antarctic climate set a benchmark for the women who followed her into Antarctic science.
In the summer of 1970, 21 year oldRosemary became the first woman to work in a deep field setting, living for weeks in a tent camp, far from the relative comfort of Scott Base. This expedition discovered Antarctica’s richest-known site of fossilised fish remains. She was also a member of the research team that discovered the first mammal fossils in Antarctica.
Rosemary visited the southern continent many times over the next 30 years, studying fossilised pollen and spores and looking at the way the vegetation had changed over time. The naming of Mount Askin in the Antarctic Darwin Mountains recognised her special contribution to Antarctic research.
Considered by Frank Sinatra as the ‘purest voice’ in Jazz, Mavis is remembered as New Zealand’s finest jazz singer. Just a teenager when America joined WWII, she became a troop mascot, singing to thousands of serviceman stationed in American Samoa, with her father’s band. After moving to Auckland Mavis soon became one of NZ’s most popular female singers, performing on radio, in cabarets and recording on the fledgling New Zealand TANZA and Zodiac labels. These recordings form an important part of New Zealand’s history of recorded music.
In the mid-fifties she moved to the USA, studying in Utah before settling in Los Angeles. Mavis signed first with Capitol records and then with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Label and in 1960 she was nominated for the Grammy for Best New Artist. She continued to perform until her sudden death after a performance in Los Angeles.
Shane Rivers. 'Rivers, Mavis Chloe', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5r13/rivers-mavis-chloe (accessed 28 November 2017)
"QUEEN OF THE COSMOS"
Beatrice Muriel Hill Tinsley 1941 – 1981
Dubbed the Queen of the Cosmos, Beatrice rose to the top of the male dominated field of astronomy. Her creative thinking and original research changed scientists’ understanding of the origin and size of the universe. She pioneered models of galactic evolution and changed the way the distances to far- away galaxies were calculated (all before computers!).
From the age of fourteen Beatrice wanted to be an astronomer. In the 1950’s only men were astronomers but that didn’t deter her and she graduated with an MSc in Physics in 1961. Unfortunately Beatrice didn’t realise that when she married a fellow physicist, she would no longer be allowed to teach at any university where her husband worked. When he took a university appointment in Dallas, Beatrice commuted 300km to work part time at a different university, as well as completing her PhD in half the usual time. Because she was a married woman her ground breaking PhD research was initially not taken seriously. Eventually she had to choose between her marriage and her career.
Following her divorce Beatrice was appointed to the staff at Yale University and three years later she became their first female professor of astronomy. She was just thirty eight years old. Beatrice also was a gifted teacher. She developed new teaching methods and mentored young women scientists in New Zealand and North America, right up until her early death from melanoma.
Cole Catley, Christine :Bright Star - Beatrice Hill Tinsley Astronomer, Cape Catley, 2006,
IRIAKA MATIU RĀTANA
FIRST MĀORI WOMAN ELECTED TO PARLIAMENT
Iriaka Matiu Rātana OBE 1905–1981
Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi
Born on the Whanganui River, Iriaka Te Rio had connections to Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi through both parents. She was a talented singer and at 16 went to live at Rātana Pā. She performed in and trained the cultural groups that travelled around New Zealand with prophet Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana.
In 1925 she became the prophet’s second wife. After his death, Iriaka married Matiu Rātana, her late husband’s son by his first marriage. They ran a dairy farm at Whangaehu and after Matiu won the Western Māori seat in 1945, Iriaka often had to run the farm and the family alone.
When Matiu died four years later Iriaka decided to step into his place. Despite some vehement opposition she was selected as the Labour Party candidate and was comfortably elected in November 1949 becoming the first woman to represent Māori in the New Zealand parliament. After giving birth to her seventh child a month later, she entered Parliament. Iriaka was eloquent, gentle and always polite and she was listened to with respect by both sides of the House. Her electorate covered much of the North Island. She didn’t drive or fly but often covered 10,000 km a month by bus and train, working tirelessly to improve living standards of Māori, particularly at the church settlement of Rātana Pā. Iriaka retired from Parliament in 1969 and in 1971 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to the Māori people.
Angela Ballara. 'Ratana, Iriaka Matiu', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5r7/ratana-iriaka-matiu (accessed 2 February 2018)
'Iriaka Rātana ', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/iriaka-ratana, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-Nov-2017
As an Olympic superwoman on the water and the only NZ women to compete in five Summer Olympic Games, Barbara won a gold, silver and bronze medal in boardsailing. She and her brother Bruce are the only Kiwi brother and sister to both win Olympic gold medals.
At school she competed in swimming and athletics, but her greatest passion and talent was dancing and by the time Barbara was fourteen she was teaching her own dance classes.
She spent her summer school holidays with her family on their old yacht ‘Sunlight’ and learnt to sail in the weekends, initially competing in P class then moving on to Starlings.
Barbara took up boardsailing when she was 17 and three years later she joined the professional boardsailing circuit. She was twice NZ Sailor of the Year, five times winner of the Halberg Award for Sportswomen of the Year and she was awarded an OBE in 1993 for services to boardsailing. Barbara retired in 2010 after 24 years at the top of her sport.
Dame Georgina Catriona Pamela Augusta Wallace DBE 1929 – 2008
In the mid- seventies, only two percent of New Zealand’s lawyers were women and so it was an exceptional achievement for Dame Augusta to be appointed as the first woman judge in the District Court in 1975. She served in this role for 18 years.
After graduating from the University of Auckland, she was admitted to the bar in the mid 1950’s and practiced independently for eleven years before being appointed a judge. Dame Augusta said she had spent a lot of time fostering a grim, dragon image because in the legal profession it often helped to look forbidding; but beneath her brisk manner on the bench she had a great sense of humour. Her consummate professionalism was important in increasing the acceptance of women in legal practice in New Zealand.
In 1990 while presiding over the Otahuhu Youth Court, a young man lunged at her with a machete, slashing open her face and breaking her jaw. This incident lead to a national review of court security.
Dame Augusta also chaired the Abortion Supervisory Committee and served on the Waitangi Tribunal and throughout her life worked tirelessly for several community organisations including Age Concern, the Hope Foundation and Victim Support. In 1993 she became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Merata Mita, Companion of the Order of Merit 1942-2010
Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāi Te Rangi
As a film director, producer and a passionate voice for Māori, Merata broke down nearly every barrier known to Māori women. For her, image was a powerful means of communication. She also pioneered Maori current affairs on television, acted, lectured and mentored the next generation of filmmakers.
Merata worked tirelessly for Māori creative control because she believed that Māori bought a unique passion and intensity to the telling of their stories. She became a leader in Māori filmmaking and was the first NZ woman to produce a feature –length documentary, Patu (1981), a passionate record of the clashes between police and protestors during the 1981 Springbok Rugby tour. She was also the second Māori woman to direct a feature film drama, Mauri (1988).
Throughout her life Merata used film to push for for social change in race relations, justice, the portrayal of Maori history and workers’ rights. She was made a Companion of the Order of Merit, not long before her sudden death in 2010.
“Swimming against the tide becomes as exhilarating experience. It makes you strong. I am completely without fear now.”
She was a small woman with a big personality and Tui single-handedly changed the way New Zealanders cook. She invented ‘food writing’ in New Zealand during her time as food editor of the New Zealand Women’s Weekly from the 60’s to the 80’s. Her clear, common sense recipes showed a new generation how to serve up more than ‘meat and three veg’. Her recipes included ‘exotic ingredients’ such as wine, garlic, capsicum, eggplants, broccoli avocado and oil and Tui showed women how to embrace new kitchen technology.
After studying Home Science at the University of Otago in the 1940’s, Tui travelled through America attending Cordon Bleu courses and discovering food journalism. In the 50’s she moved to Paris and became the only woman in her class at the École Hôtelière de Paris, in an environment where women were barely tolerated.
Tui had great respect for the generations of women cooks who had come before her, women who could create meals on coal ranges with the minimum of equipment. She in turn became a mentor to many young New Zealand food writers and chefs and has been described as “New Zealand’s Julia Child”.
Self Raising Flower by Tui Flower. Viking, Auckland 1998
STELLAR ATHLETE AND FIRST NZ WOMAN OLYMPIC MEDALLIST
Yvette Winifred Williams CNZM, MBE b. 1929
She was the running, jumping, throwing, hurdling athlete of the early 1950’s and New Zealand’s athlete of the century yet Yvette had shown little athletic ability at school. She joined the local athletic club for the social life but two months later won the national shotput title and Jim Bellwood became her coach. While most believed weight training was bad for women, Yvette often ran in heavy army boots carrying brick weights. Conscientious training, outstanding physical ability and determination helped her win a gold medal in the long jump at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
She was first NZ woman Olympic medallist and the first New Zealander to win a medal in an Olympic field event. During her stellar career she held the world long jump record for 18 months and won 21 national titles in shotput, long jump, discus, hurdles and javelin and has inspired generations of NZ women athletes.
'Yvette Williams', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/yvette-williams, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 27-Feb-2017
Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga a Māhaki
Articulate and opinionated, Arapera was a celebrated writer and thinker and one of New Zealand’s first bilingual poets. She was part of a group of Māori writers also writing in English in the 1950’s, and won a special Katherine Mansfield Memorial award in 1959 for one of her first pieces of writing. In her essays, poems and short stories she explored the clash of Māori and Pakeha culture, the migration of Māori to the city, and the role of women in New Zealand – particularly Māori women.
Born in Rangitukia on the East Coast, Arapera was proud to be a Maori woman. She was regal, glamorous and funny. For 25 years she was a passionate high school teacher and many of her past students still think of themselves as “Ma Blank’s girls.”
"I enjoy words that sparkle, whether they be in Māori, my mother tongue, or English. What a privilege it is to inherit and to appreciate a language, and to enjoy another equally."
After pursuing a career chosen for her by her father and studying at the University of Otago Medical School, Emily became New Zealand’s first woman doctor when she graduated in 1896. The university had no objections to her studying medicine but her male classmates were not happy. They fired at her with pea shooters during lectures, threw bits of flesh her way in the dissection room and subjected her to hoots and catcalls. She was even asked to leave some ‘sensitive’ anatomy lectures and be taught alone.
Emily was a strong, courageous and determined woman, who was unafraid to say what she thought. All her practicing life she worked to improve the health of women and children but she found it hard to establish herself in practice. Many viewed her not as a real doctor, but rather as superior kind of nurse. For thirty years she had to supplement her private practice income by working as a medical superintendent at St Helens Maternity Hospital.
She was the founder and first president of the New Zealand Medical Woman’s Association. But change was slow. Thirty years after Emily graduated only 7% of NZ medical graduates were women. Today, 120 years later, more than 50% of New Zealand medical graduates are women.
Coney, Sandra: Standing in the Sunshine-A history of New Zealand Women since they won the vote. Penguin Books NZ Ltd, 1993
Patricia A. Sargison. 'Siedeberg, Emily Hancock', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3s16/siedeberg-emily-hancock (accessed 2 February 2018)