Mabel Bowden Howard

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Mabel Bowden Howard

Mabel Howard was the first woman to be appointed as a cabinet minister in New Zealand. Born in Australia she moved to Christchurch as a child after the death of her mother. Her father was involved in Labour politics and entered Parliament but passed away in 1939. Howard had followed in his footsteps as a trade unionist and was very active in community organisations and also sat on the Christchurch City Council for several terms through the 1930s and 1960s.

She was elected as MP for Christchurch East in a by-election in 1943. She worked in Parliament on many issues affecting women, including social welfare, consumer protection and equal pay. After re-election, in 1947 she was appointed as Minister of Health and Child Welfare. Her exuberant personality saw her wave two pairs of women's bloomers in the House during a debate about inconsistent sizing in the garment industry – an action for which she is often best remembered today. 

She maintained an open door in her electorate office and was well-known for taking a personal interest in her constituents and helping with their problems. Howard was very fond of cats and was for many years president of the SPCA in Christchurch. In the 1957 Labour government she succeeded in passing the Animals Protection Act. In this excerpt from a biographical radio programme she recalls that her election in 1943 was to her, "much more exciting than being appointed to Cabinet".

Find out more about Mabel Howard:

Watch a 1947 film of Mabel Howard after her appointment to Cabinet.

Listen to the full 1954 radio interview with Howard. 

Image: Mabel Bowden Howard 1/2-065969-F Alexander Turnbull Library.

Catalogue Reference 32257

Year 1954


Portrait from Life, RNZ National

Excerpt: 00:01:33

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