The Farmer - Helen Mary Wilson (1869-1957)

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Helen Wilson and her mother Emma Ostler, both signed the 1892 and 1893 suffrage petitions in Horowhenua and voted in 1893. Helen had recently married and wrote in her autobiography that she was nailing shingles onto the roof of her house when she first met her future husband, Charles Kendall Wilson.

She and her mother had established a farm on their own near Levin in 1888. Her father had died in 1879 and the family of four had lived a precarious existence in the South Island for several years, supported by Helen's teacher's salary, until she won 20 acres in a land ballot and the two women became the first settlers on the Levin block. 

Helen’s entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography notes: “Through hard work they established a valuable property. They fenced, dug, cleared the land and extended their small dwelling. Emma Ostler became a prominent Levin businesswoman and a leader of the local Women's Christian Temperance Union and women's suffrage campaign. Helen was sympathetic to women's suffrage but had no time for some within the movement whom she saw as extremists.” 1

In the 1920s she became a founding member of the Women's Division of the New Zealand Farmer's Union (a forerunner of Federated Farmers). Helen’s husband entered politics with the Reform Party and they continued farming in several locations in the North Island. Helen eventually served as Dominion President of the W.D.F.U. in the 1930s and during the Depression was involved in setting up boards to tackle women’s unemployment in urban centres. ,She was awarded an O.B.E. in 1937.

In 1950, although losing her sight and hearing, she published her autobiography, My First 80 Years which was very well-received as a story of pioneer life and rural New Zealand around the turn of the 20th century. It was about this time that this radio talk by her entitled “The Status of Women” was recorded. In this excerpt she recalls the criticisms of those who opposed women getting the vote in 1893.

In this excerpt she recalls the criticisms of those who opposed women getting the vote in 1893. Listen to her full radio talk, The Status of Women.

1. Bronwyn Jones. 'Wilson, Helen Mary', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Image: Helen Wilson, 1938 from "My First 80 Years" New Zealand Electronic Texts Collection.
(CC BY-SA 3.0 NZ)

Catalogue Reference 32941

Year 1950


Wilson, Helen

Excerpt: 0:04:40

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