Mabel Howard – New Zealand’s first woman Cabinet Minister

Mabel Howard (1894 - 1972) was New Zealand's first woman Cabinet Minister.  She first entered Parliament in 1943, after winning the Christchurch East by-election on 6 February. In 1946, she won in the newly-formed electorate of Sydenham. On 13 May 1947, Mabel was voted into Cabinet by the Labour caucus, on the death of Dan Sullivan.

Parliamentary debates 1st session, 28th Parliament vol. 267  June 24 to July 29 1947 lists Mabel like this:
Labour Ministry: Minister of Health, and Minister in Charge of Mental Hospitals - The Hon. Mabel Bowden Howard.

You can see Mabel talk about her new position - and what it meant to the women of New Zealand - here in New Zealand National Film Unit presents Weekly Review No. 306 (1947) published on ArchivesNZ YouTube channel.

A memorable moment in NZ political (and social) history is Mabel holding up bloomers. This was part of a debate in Parliament, to demonstrate variation in clothing sizes.

Jim McAloon's biography of Mabel in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography details her interesting life and career. She came into politics via the union movement, and working with her MP father Ted Howard.

Mabel was a Christchurch City councillor for a number of terms: 1933-1935, 1938-1941, 1950-1959, and1963-1968.

 

Mabel was a colourful character. There are fab Mabel photo ops you can see on DigitalNZ. She was bullish, efficient, conscientious, determined, and hard-working. Her life and career demonstrate her ongoing concern with women's rights, equal pay, consumer protection, and social welfare. She was a fighter. A trail-blazer.

More about Mabel

Listen to:
Mabel Howard Women in the Council Chamber


Christchurch City Council
This brief political biography originally featured in an Our City O-Tautahi exhibition from 19 - 30 September 2006, featuring Christchurch’s own “Women in the Council Chamber”, initiated and co-ordinated by Cr Anna Crighton.

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