Elizabeth Reid McCombs knew what it was like to grow up in hard times. The early death of her father had sent her family into quite a spiral but with the great influences that were over the young Elizabeth’s life, she went on to take her place in Christchurch’s and New Zealand’s history.
Born in Kaiapoi, Elizabeth spent her childhood living in Ashburton and Christchurch. She followed her older sisters into the Progressive Liberal Association whose main focus was to increase political rights for women. It was here that she met her future husband, James McCombs. She also rubbed shoulders with famous suffragette Kate Sheppard as a member of New Zealand’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
In 1903, James and Elizabeth were married and together pursued careers in politics. Both active in left-wing politics, James became a Member of Parliament in the Lyttelton electorate followed by being the first President of the newly formed Labour Party in 1916. Elizabeth played the role of an executive for the new party.
In 1921, Elizabeth was elected into the Christchurch City Council, the second woman to do so. Wanting to join her husband into the wider political flow, she tried unsuccessfully for the Kaiapoi electorate – as Labour’s first woman nominee – in 1928. That was followed by another failed attempt at the Christchurch North electorate in 1931.
Sadly, James McCombs died in August 1933, after twenty years in the Lyttelton seat. Although hesitant, Elizabeth put herself forward as a replacement and won her late husband’s seat with 2600 votes; becoming the first woman Member of Parliament in New Zealand on 9th November 1933.
Known for her impatience, and working towards the best intentions of the people instead of taking note of their wants, she also pushed forward for equal pay and change in the unemployment policy for women.
With quick failing health, Elizabeth died on 7th June 1935, her son Terry winning her Lyttelton seat after her. Terry was also the first Minister of Education under the first Labour Government. The Lyttelton Electorate sat within the McCombs family for 38 years.
*Image courtesy of the Christchurch Public Libraries – http://christchurchcitylibraries.com – File Reference CCL Photo CD 6, IMG0028*