The Women’s Christian Temperance Union Began – May 1885

Within seven months of the arrival of American-born Temperance Movement member, Mary Clement Leavitt, ten branches of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were established across New Zealand, including Christchurch in May 1885.

This was New Zealand’s first nationwide, all woman, mass organisation and it remains the world’s oldest voluntary, non sectarian organisation today. It was first founded in Hillsboro, Ohio in 1873 – the main aims being social reform and suffrage.

‘For God and Home and Humanity’, these brave pioneering women pushed against what was very much a man’s world, campaigning for suffrage, alcohol and drug education, changes in the legal system and for an economical independence that would be beneficial for women all over New Zealand and the world. For their fellow women, they visited prisons with the offer of legal aid, made high schools and universities more accessible to those wanting to learn, pushed through the Kindergarten Movement, and ran Soup Kitchens. They opened Venereal Disease Clinics for the ‘working girls’ and helped those who were homeless into housing.

In 1887, New Zealand’s most famous Suffragette, Kate Sheppard (who was Christchurch based), became the Union’s National Superintendent. She tirelessly gave speeches, wrote articles for newspapers and pamphlets, lobbied politicians (taking on Prime Minister Richard ‘King Dick’ Seddon himself), and organised petitions. The Union also promoted other women’s groups and with the Canterbury’s Woman’s Institute, the National Council of Women was founded in Christchurch in 1896 – three years after New Zealand women won the right to vote in a world first!

Please note the attached photo was not taken in Christchurch.

*Image courtesy of Wellington Craftivism Collective –

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