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25 Famous Women Immortalised in Online Dictionary

Media release: 19 September 2018

Launched today, 25 new entries to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography celebrate some of New Zealand’s most influential women.

From social morality campaigner Patricia Bartlett to transgender sex worker Carmen Rupe, the new biographies draw on diverse strands of women’s experience in New Zealand.

Social morality campaigner Patricia Bartlett in 1971, and transgender icon Carmen Rupe's first photo in drag. Photos courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library refs EP/1971/5508/10A-F and PA1-q-1051-054-162. 

“This is a key way in which the Ministry is marking Suffrage Day. The right to vote was a hard-won victory that changed the course of history, and what better way to commemorate than by profiling some of New Zealand’s most significant women,” said Group Manager Delivery Tamsin Evans.

“Some of these women earned worldwide acclaim in their fields, such as children’s writer Margaret Mahy and astronomer Beatrice Tinsley. 

“Others toiled to improve the lives of their communities. Marie Clay pioneered a reading recovery programme used by teachers across the globe, while Joan Donley helped revolutionise midwifery in New Zealand.

“Activists Mira Szászy and Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard fought for Māori and indigenous causes at home and abroad. Māori queen Te Ātairangikaahu was one of the most beloved figures of her generation.

“Manatū Taonga has considerable content on its NZHistory, Te Ara and Dictionary of New Zealand Biography websites about suffrage, the women’s movement and key women in history. We are committed to highlighting existing stories and contributing new ones throughout the year.

“The stories have written been by subject experts including Barbara Brookes, Sandra Coney, Tessa Duder, Rebecca Priestley, Roger Robinson, Margaret Tennant and Jill Trevelyan. They contain more than 50,000 words, over 200 images, videos and sound recordings, and many of these were drawn from private collections so have not been published before,” Ms Evans said.

The DNZB contains biographies of more than 3,000 people who shaped New Zealand culture and history.

Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan with four other female Labour MPs in 1981. Left to right: Margaret Shields (MP for Kapiti), Mary Batchelor (Avon), Whetū Tirikātene-Sullivan (Southern Māori), Fran Wilde (Wellington Central), Ann Hercus (Lyttelton). Helen Clark became the MP for Mt Albert after that year’s election. Photo courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

The 25 new biographies are: writer Mona Anderson, activist Rona Bailey, social morality campaigner Patricia Bartlett, potter and educator Doreen Blumhardt, reading recovery pioneer Marie Clay, midwife Joan Donley, writer Lauris Edmond, activist and writer Elsie Locke, children’s writer Margaret Mahy, Māori  queen Te Ātairangikaahu, artist Joanna Paul, broadcaster Cherry Raymond, health researcher and Ngāi Tahu leader Erihapeti Rehu-Murchie, land rights activist Tuaiwa (Eva) Rickard, paraplegic athlete Eve Rimmer, transgender icon Carmen Rupe, writer Jacqueline Sturm, activist and leader Mira Szászy, astronomer Beatrice Tinsley, politician Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, community worker Agnes TuiSamoa, Judge Augusta Wallace, community worker Betty Wark, actor Davina Whitehouse and palaeontologist Joan Wiffen.

See also Senior Historian Tim Shoebridge’s blog, 25 New Stories of Trailblazing New Zealand Women.


Contact: Christine Seymour, phone 027 622 0468 email: [email protected]


Updated on 17th January 2019