The Wesleyan - Winifred Mona Hills (1869-1970)

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As she recalls in her 1963 radio interview, Winifred Hills was born in Greymouth in 1869, ‘at the time when all the miners were there.’ She was one of the 16 children of Wesleyan (Methodist) minister Reverend William Cannell and his wife Annie.

The family moved often (as was the practice for Methodist ministers), living in seven other centres after Greymouth, until by the time the suffrage petition was circulating the country in 1893, they were in Hawera, where William was the local minister. Annie Cannell and three of her daughters, Winifred, Gertrude and Elsie signed the petition in Hawera, and the following year Winifred married farmer Jesse Hills. 

Wesleyan church members made up about 10 percent of the population in late 19th and early 20th century New Zealand. The church became involved in many social justice causes and its followers were enthusiastic campaigners for Temperance. The church urged members to avoid the dangers of alcohol personally, as well as rallying for local and national prohibition. This lead the church to also support of the campaign for votes for women. The reasoning went, that if women could vote, they would vote to control the sale of alcohol for the good of their families – and for this reason the church put a lot of energy into the women’s franchise movement. 

The Methodist Church Archives have found 34 women who signed the 1893 petition can be linked directly to ministers from their church: wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and even a daughter-in-law and a niece. Thousands more women were probably influenced to sign, at least in part, due to the Temperance campaign. This was led by dynamic speakers such as Reverend Leonard Isitt who toured the country continually, preaching on the evils of liquor and its role in domestic violence against women and children, and the breakdown of families.

Image courtesy of Audrey Fenn

Catalogue Reference 156726

Year 1963


Hills, Winifred

Excerpt: 0:01:21

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