TOTI – a charitable trust in Hamilton – this week announced that a public sculpture commemorating political pioneer Dame Hilda Ross and the 1919 Women’s Parliamentary Rights Act will be unveiled in Hamilton tomorrow. But Dame Hilda’s National Party stripes were curiously camouflaged in the TOTI press statement
Actually, they are not mentioned at all (an oversight, deliberate or otherwise, drawn to our attention by Ele Ludemann on her Homepaddock blog).
The TOTI announcement reminds us that Dame Hilda Ross was the first Hamilton/Waikato woman elected as an MP in 1945 and became the second woman in New Zealand to become a Cabinet Minister in 1949.
It tells us that artist Matt Gauldie’s bronze sculpture portrays her in Parliament: one hand is holding a copy of the 1919 Act which finally allowed women to become MPs, the other is raised, advocating on behalf of women and children, whose welfare she considered her principal concern.
And it advises that the unveiling will be a public event featuring live music performances and guest speakers, Dame Marilyn Waring and feminist historian, Dr Jenny Coleman and Georgina Beyer.
Dame Marilyn Waring is identified as National MP (Waipa 1975-1984) and author of “The Political Years” .
But no mention is made that Dame Hilda Ross too was a National MP.
News of TOTI’s plans for the statue were reported on the Stuff website in April 2017.
In this report, TOTI described Grace Hilda Cuthberta Ross as a “community leader, social activist and political pioneer”.
It did not say she was a National Party MP.
More recently, the planned statue of Dame Hilda Ross became embroiled in the debate over what should be done about the statue of Captain Hamilton.
The Stuff report on this argument noted that, unlike Captain Hamilton,
Ross is a figure who appears to be universally revered. She co-founded children’s health camps in 1926 and spent 25 summers as camp mother at the Port Waikato Children’s Camp.
She was also the first piano teacher at Waikato Diocesan School in its early stages, and spent about 50 years with Hamilton Operatic Society.
This report mentions that, not long after the Captain Hamilton statue was removed, Waikato University associate professor in Māori and Indigenous Studies Tom Roa declared he was keen to see a statue of Ross take Captain Hamilton’s place in Civic Square.
“She’s a heroine, the first female parliamentarian of this region, the deputy mayor of Hamilton when it became a city.
“She’s a wonderful person who’s totally ignored in our history.”
But her National Party stripes were not mentioned.
The NZ Herald website has reported that the statue installation and unveiling will take place this weekend “after a long and hard three-year battle”.
Reporter Tom Rowland notes that the TOTI Trust had commissioned and raised the $200,000 cost of the sculpture and the city council has given the go-ahead for the installation in Garden Place on Saturday at 11am.
Dame Hilda (1889-1959) is a historic Hamilton figure. Her social and political work held pioneer status in her time. Dame Hilda co-founded children’s health camps, was well-versed in music and conducting, and was a hospital board member.
World War II saw her become a Member of Parliament and a Cabinet minister, and she saw through Hamilton’s achievement of city status in 1945.
She was the first Hamilton/Waikato woman elected as an MP in 1945 and became the second woman in New Zealand to become a Cabinet minister in 1949.
But what were her party colours?
The report doesn’t say.
In her post on the disinclination to link Dame Hilda with the National Party, Homepaddock’s Ele Ludemann asks: was it an oversight or deliberate?
Call me cynical, but could it be because she was a National MP that her party wasn’t mentioned?
Why would I think that?
Because often feminists, and other proponents of identity politics, don’t celebrate people on the right because, for them, it’s not enough to be a woman, or of a particular race or ethnicity or whatever other sub-section of humanity they file people under, you have to fit their political agenda as well.
These are the feminists for whom Margaret Thatcher is anathema; who ignore Ruth Richardson as our first female Finance Minister; and who pass over Dame Jenny Shipley as New Zealand’s first woman Prime Minister and label her successor as the first elected woman Prime Minister.
Ludemann goes on to note that “these people” didn’t celebrate when National’s leader and deputy were Maori – this only became an issue when they could criticise the party when Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett were replaced.
She says Dame Hilda’s achievements are definitely worth celebrating and she is pleased she is being recognised with a statue.
She also reports that the National Party has a memorial fund in Dame Hilda’s name to promote greater opportunities for women in politics.
Fair to say, Mike Mather was more informative about Dame Hilda’s party associations in his Stuff report on the weekend unveiling:
Ross was the city’s first female councillor, deputy mayor and a became a minister in the first National government in 1945, responsible for social security and child welfare. The statue has long been a project of the philanthropic arts group Theatre of the Impossible Trust (TOTI), which has fully funded it.
Mather reminds us that the arrival of the sculpture will restore the city’s statue population, following a decision in June by council chief executive Richard Briggs to remove an effigy of Captain John Fane Hamilton from Civic Square, after kaumātua Taitimu Maipi declared he wanted to tear it down for its colonial connotations.
Oh, and while mentioning the influence of one kaumatua on the way the city is run, let’s note that TOTI says in its press statement it advocated commemorating New Zealand’s first Maori woman MP Iriaka Ratana, (Western Maori 1949-1969, Labour) alongside Dame Hilda at the Garden Place site.
And what happened to this idea?
They were unable to obtain Waikato/Tainui or Ratana endorsement.
The two women MPs were colleagues and friends who collaborated in the interests of people and nation, cross-party social activists committed to the welfare of families and children, says TOTI.
In 2018, the Parliamentary Service Commission Committee declined a proposal by TOTI to acknowledge the three political pioneers, Mabel Howard, Dame Hilda Ross and Iriaka Ratana with bronze statues in the grounds of Parliament.