THE WORLD’S FIRST LADY MAYOR
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New Zealand’s second oldest surviving film.
Onehunga borough councillor and former mayor, Elizabeth Yates, in smart late-Victorian dress with her hair tied back, rises from her seat at a desk. Behind is a tattered theatrical backdrop of the inner stone wall of a church or castle. Standing, she opens a book (or ledger) on the desk. She unfolds loose papers held in the book and gestures as she addresses the camera (as she would her fellow councillors). A portly bearded man, her husband Michael Yates, seats himself at the desk and turns the pages of the book as she continues. Smiling, confident and determined, she waves one of the sheets of paper as if to validate her words.
Some years earlier, Mrs Yates had, for a year, served as the mayor of Onehunga.
“Elizabeth Yates' election as mayor of Onehunga on 29 November 1893 – the day after New Zealand women had led the world by voting in a general election for the first time – cemented her place as a pioneer of women's political rights. She was the first woman in the British Empire to hold the office of mayor ... The office also brought her an appointment as a justice of the peace ... [S]he received congratulations from Premier Richard Seddon and Queen Victoria. But ... four councillors and the town clerk resigned immediately in protest.” - New Zealand History; www.nzhistory.net.nz/people/elizabeth-yates; retrieved 26/10/2016.
“One of the best all-round series of kinematagraph pictures yet shown in Auckland was exhibited last evening in St. James’ Hall .... One of the best living pictures shown, and one which created the greatest interest and amusement, was that of Mrs Yates, the ex-lady Mayor of Onehunga, and her husband Captain Michael Yates. Mrs Yates (in a specially rehearsed scene) was shown standing and delivering an impassioned speech to the Onehunga Borough Council, with much waving of papers and gesticulations. Her husband was seen entering the room and taking his seat, while Mrs Yates went on haranguing the Borough Council Fathers on their manifold inequities. This picture was highly original and very well produced, and it should excite the greatest interest throughout the colony.” - The Auckland Star, 5th July 1900; Papers Past; https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers?phrase=2&query=ex-lady+Mayor+of+Onehunga; retrieved 26/10/2016.
The footage has no titles, but was newspaper-advertised as The World’s First Lady Mayor - although that honour belongs to Susanna Salter, elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas, USA, in 1887.
Elizabeth Yates “was born Elizabeth Oman in Caithness, Scotland, probably between 1840 and 1848, and arrived in Auckland around 1853 with her parents and sister ... She died in Auckland [in] 1918 and was buried in St Peter's churchyard, Onehunga.” - New Zealand History; www.nzhistory.net.nz/people/elizabeth-yates; retrieved 26/10/2016
“No other woman was elected mayor in New Zealand until 1957, when Annie Huggan became mayor of Petone” - Te Ara Encyclopadia; www.teara.govt.nz/en/local-and-regional-government/page-3; retrieved 26/10/2016.
New Zealand’s oldest surviving film footage is THE DEPARTURE OF THE SECOND CONTINGENT FOR THE BOER WAR (F22555) from earlier in 1900.
Reference number F90103
Collection Film and Video Collection
Media type Moving Image
Place of Production NEW ZEALAND/AOTEAROA
Production company Zealandia Living Picture Company
Camera: Enos Sylvanus Pegler