Wilhelmina Sherriff Bain: Suffragist librarian

We celebrate the 130th year of women's suffrage in New Zealand with a series of posts about local suffrage campaigners.

Wilhelmina Sherriff Elliott, nee Bain, feminist, teacher, librarian and peace activist, was born in Edinburgh in 1848. She came to New Zealand in 1858 with her family. They settled in Invercargill. Throughout her life she used her full name.

Wilhelmina trained to be a teacher in 1879 and taught in schools in Southland up until 1893 when she moved to Christchurch and became a librarian. While she was teaching she began agitating for equal pay for women teachers and advocated for more involvement of women on school boards and committees

Whilst living in Christchurch Wilhelmina became involved in the Canterbury Women’s Institute. She was elected president and was in that position when Christchurch hosted the first meeting of the National Council of Women of New Zealand. She published a pamphlet of one of her addresses, “Human Betterment”. She was very vocal on the subject of peace and her opposition to war.

Wilhelmina moved north to teach in Auckland and then Inglewood, Taranaki and then in 1904 left to travel to Germany to attend the quinquennial meeting of the International Council of Women where she gave an address. She was then invited to Boston to attend the International Congress of Peace and Arbitration, afterwards travelling around America giving addresses at other meetings.  Wilhelmina then went to work in women’s suffrage in Southern California. She was away from New Zealand until 1908.

Once she returned to New Zealand she resettled in Southland and worked as a clerk and then a journalist. She resumed her peace activities as well as speaking out on prison reform, protective reform for workers and women jurors.

Wilhelmina married late in life. In 1914, on her 66th birthday, she married Robert Archibald Elliott a merchant from Fortrose. Sadly Robert died in 1920. Wilhelmina moved north to the Hawkes Bay in 1923 and then Auckland after his death.

She was a prolific writer of articles, letters and papers to conferences.

In later life she penned a fiction book and 3 books of poetry: Service; a New Zealand Story, From Zealandia; a book of verse, Riverton sands and other verses, and Beautiful Zealandia; (air, Maryland! My Maryland!)

Wilhelmina died in Auckland in 1944 aged 99.

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