Kia ora koutou. Greetings to you all
I specifically acknowledge: Councillor Sarah Free of the Wellington City Council and Kay Hart and Fay Leonard, National President and Vice President of the New Zealand Federation of Women’s Institutes respectively. I also acknowledge the representatives of the sister organisations present.
I am very pleased to be here today to open the 95th Annual General Meeting of the New Zealand Federation of Women’s Institutes. 95 years is a notable anniversary by any standards and I’m pleased I can be part of your celebrations.
The last time I spoke to you was at the 2014 AGM. I’d like to congratulate you on what you’ve achieved since, particularly your support for Kidney Kids NZ and your Nurturing the Nation initiative.
My speech at the 2014 event was future focused, tying in with the theme of technology and getting to grips with the digital world. This year, I’m heading back in time, beginning with a look at the origins of the relationship between your organisation and the Vice-regal office.
Governors- General and their spouses have had a link with the Women’s Institute for 90 of its 95 years. Only a handful of organisations can claim to have held vice-regal patronage longer.
The New Zealand Federation of Women’s Institutes first gained Vice-regal patronage in 1926, during the time of Sir Charles and Lady Fergusson. However, it was during the 1930s, with Lord and Lady Bledisloe, that the association really developed.
Your organisation formed a relationship with Lady Bledisloe even before she’d arrived in New Zealand. An article from the Herald, dated 18 March 1930, reported that Lady Bledisloe was officially welcomed to the country on behalf of the women of New Zealand by way of a radio broadcast, on 2YA, by Miss Agnes M Stops of the Women’s Institute. At the time of the broadcast, Lady Bledisloe, and her husband, were 200 miles offshore on board the liner “Rangitiki.” Obviously nothing would stop Miss Stops from issuing a timely welcome!
When the first New Zealand Institute was launched in Hawkes Bay in 1921, the role of women in public and private life was very different from what it is now. In the ensuing 95 years we have seen women make inroads in every area of society, from the professions to government, into Antarctica and also into space.
Women’s lives and the types of contributions they make have changed dramatically. What hasn’t changed is the need for places where women can join together to learn new things, to help others and to form new friendships. Over the decades, the New Zealand Federation of Women’s Institute has been a constant.
The New Zealand Federation of Women’s Institutes remains New Zealand’s largest organisation for women. That an organisation which began during the Jazz Age still exists in the Computer Age, is a testament to the commitment , leadership and dedication of women.
It also underlines the continuing relevance of the precepts the Women’s Institute was founded on. Those first organisers, Miss Jerome Spencer and Mrs Frances Hutchinson, saw a need for an organisation that would bring women together and give them a supportive environment where they could expand their skills and knowledge. For an organisation to be still going nearly a century after it was founded says something of the foresight their vision. It also speaks to our need as women to form communities beyond our family groups, based on shared interests and experiences. Friendship and having a place to belong are also valuable in terms of mental and emotional well-being.
With our time at Government House coming to an end in August, this will be my last opportunity to speak to you as Patron. I have been pleased to be associated with your organisation. I have also appreciated the opportunities I’ve had to get to meet some of you, at AGMs and conferences, or at the morning teas, at Government House.
Good luck with your future endeavours. I wish you all the best as you begin to make your preparations for a second century.
It’s my duty now to officially declare this meeting open. Please join me in a round of applause to celebrate the official opening of the New Zealand Federation of Women’s Institutes 95th Annual General Meeting.