Christchurch City Council’s First Woman Councillor – 1917

Ada Wells was born on 29th April 1863 in South Oxfordshire, England.  Her family immigrated to Christchurch in 1873 and Ada was enrolled at the Avonside School (Chch East School).  She then attended Christchurch West High (Hagley Community College) where she later began her teaching career.  She had been fortunate enough to have received a scholarship for Canterbury College (University of Canterbury) and also developed a great love for the arts and language studies.

It was her marriage to Harry Wells in 1884 that would shape her into the woman we know today.  Due to Harry’s fondness of liquor and his quick temper, Ada was forced at times to be the sole breadwinner of the family.  She managed this by teaching at St Albans School and Chch Girls’ High.

It was the experience of her matrimonial life and the poverty of her students that led Ada into Christchurch’s suffragette movement.   She became a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, working side by side with Kate Sheppard and pushing for equal rights and economic independence for women.

In 1892, after being fired from complications arising with her declined maternity leave, Ada co-founded the ‘Canterbury Women’s Institute’ with the controversial Professor Alexander Bickerton.  Ada became the President of the institute.  This led to other roles in the ‘Ashburton and North Canterbury United Charitable Aid Board’, ‘Prison Gate Mission’ and the ‘National Council of Women’.  She became known as the right hand of Kate Sheppard.

When women won the right to vote in 1893, Ada knew that this was one small victory in a war that was nowhere close to finished.  She turned her sights on the government and pushed for the rights of women to stand in parliament.  Although this was achieved in 1919, no woman was successfully elected until 1933.

In 1917, Ada Wells became Christchurch City Council’s first female Councillor.  She served the city in this role for 2 years.

She died in 1933 and is buried in the Waimairi Cemetery in Ilam.

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