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Ellen Melville

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2 Freyberg Place

The Ellen Melville Centre stands as testament to the Pioneer Women of New Zealand and to Ellen Melville herself, who in 1906 became only the second woman to be admitted to the bar in New Zealand.

She established her own law practice and in 1913 she became the first woman to be elected to a municipal authority in New Zealand, gaining a seat on the Auckland City Council, A seat she continued to hold for 33 consecutive years until 1946. She also stood for Parliament, albeit unsuccessfully, at every election after the passing of the Women's Parliamentary Rights Act in 1919.

In that same year she was a founding member of the local Lyceum Club, a women’s only club modelled on its British counterpart. The club provided women with “a substantial and dignified milieu where [they] could meet editors and other employers and discuss matters as men did in professional clubs.” Its members included professionals, artists, writers, academics, and business women, like Marianne Smith, who were active in campaigning on issues of women’s and children’s welfare, and they stood for public office and for parliament.

Although the connections between Ellen Melville and the business of fashion in the city is scant, it is recorded that she made her own hats.

When the centre was refurbished in 2017 the meeting rooms were named for an activist predecessor Elizabeth Yates, and for a new generation of pioneering women, Helen Clark, Betty Wark, Marilyn Waring and Eleitino (Paddy) Walker.

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