Margaret Richardson Sievwright

19 March 1844 – 9 March 1095

Social reformer and Feminist

Margaret Home Sievwright was born at Pentcaithland, North Berwick, Scotland, on 19 March 1844, the daughter of Jane Law Richardson (née Home), and John, an estate factor. Attracted at an early age to social work she taught in a school for poor children in Edinburgh, trained as a nurse under Florence Nightingale, and joined the campaign of Josephine Butler for the repeal of the Criminal Diseases Act. Immigrating to New Zealand in 1870 she married, eight years later, Stout's barrister partner, William Sievwright, with whom she lived in Gisborne till her death.

Margaret Sievwright joined the Women's Christian Temperance Union from its foundation, holding local and Dominion office, and was one of the first women to be elected to a licensing board. A firm advocate of women's rights, she campaigned for women's suffrage, and formed a women's political association in Gisborne in 1893. Three years later she was instrumental in calling together delegates of women's societies to form the National Council of Women, with whose radical programme she was closely associated. She was President of the Council at the time of her death at Whataupoko, Poverty Bay, on 9 March 1905.

Margaret Sievwright believed that broader emancipation could only be achieved through supporting political parties that promised to further the interests of women. She was an idealist aiming at total equality for all women. She wanted economic independence for married women, equal pay, and sex instruction and education for parenthood. She fought for the reform of the marriage and divorce laws, and maintained that prostitution would always exist as long as women lacked equal opportunity in employment. She objected to the stigma of the word 'illegitimate'. Sievwright worked for disarmament during the South African war (1899–1902), and condemned any project 'likely to involve Australasia in the participation of warfare'. For these beliefs she was castigated by the press.

Though shy and sensitive by nature, Margaret Sievwright was so aroused by injustice that she undertook social work of all kinds, and her influence spread to feminist groups abroad, where she was an admired figure.


SIEVWRIGHT, Margaret Home', from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966.
Sievwright, Margaret Home', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12-Feb-2014


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