Elizabeth Yates (mayor)

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Elizabeth Yates.

Elizabeth Yates (c.1845 – 6 September 1918) was the mayor of Onehunga borough in New Zealand for most of 1894. She was the first female mayor anywhere in the British Empire. Onehunga is now part of the city of Auckland.


She was born Elizabeth Onan in Caithness, Scotland and came to New Zealand with her family in 1853, and apparently lived in the Onehunga area from 1855 on. She married Michael Yates, master mariner, in 1875. He was on the Onehunga Borough Council, a councillor from 1885 and mayor from 1888 to 1892. She was already involved in politics through her strong support of the women's suffrage movement, as well as participation in the debates of the Auckland Union Parliament.[1]

Earlier in 1893, after her husband had stood down from his post due to ill health in 1892, she had accepted the nomination for the office of mayor and in November defeated her opponent, F. W. Court, at the polls (also automatically becoming a Justice of the Peace) in a close race decided by only 13 votes.[2] The election made international news and brought her congratulations from Premier Richard Seddon and Queen Victoria.[1]

However, she met strong opposition from a hard core of local councillors, town clerks and members of the public (four councillors and the town clerk resigned in response to her election),[2] and they often disrupted meetings and orchestrated opposition to her every proposal. It is noted by some critics that she did not help her own cause by being 'tactless' and 'dictatorial' in her manner. Only a year later, she was defeated roundly at the polls. Even her opponents had to concede however, that she had been very effective during her short tenure, having liquidated the borough debt, established a sinking fund, reorganised the fire brigade, upgraded roads, footpaths and sanitation, and having personally lobbied the government to authorise the reopening of the Waikaraka cemetery.[1]

She later returned as a councillor to the Borough Council for two years between 1899 and 1901. She died on 6 September 1918 after a long time in a mental hospital.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Mogford, Janice C. "Yates, Elizabeth 1840-1848?–1918". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Elizabeth Yates (from 'nzhistory.net.nz'. Accessed 2009-02-18.)

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