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Elsie Locke was a writer, activist, one-time communist and a campaigner for women’s rights. Her activism made a major contribution to New Zealand’s social, cultural and political life over many decades, while her children's books and historical novels are still read today.
Born into a working-class family, she did well at school winning a scholarship to attend Auckland University. This was during the 1930s, and the suffering of the poor and unemployed during the Great Depression helped form her social consciousness and saw her join the Communist Party.
In this excerpt from a 1976 radio interview, she talks about the Working Women's committees she helped set up around the country during the 1930s. She edited progressive women's magazines which tackled 'modern' topics such as birth control and pay inequality. Locke also wrote for school journals and penned novels such as the best-selling Runaway Settlers (1965).
Locke left the Communist Party, disillusioned after the invasion of Hungary in 1956, and continued political activism throughout her life – campaigning against nuclear weapons, racism as well as environmental and women's issues.
She lived in Christchurch for most of her adult life and is remembered there with a bronze bust and a memorial which forms part of the popular Margaret Mahy Playground in the central city.
Image: Elsie Violet Locke – Ref: PAColl-4824 Alexander Turnbull Library.
Catalogue Reference 24167
Radio New Zealand