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Oral History: Dances

Religion: Women at Church

Southern Dunedin was a hotbed of Christian feminism at the turn of the century. Over 60% of the adult female population signed the 1893 Suffrage Petition seeking a woman's right to vote. This was a larger proportion than for any similar sized urban area in New Zealand. Strong-minded women from the evangelical Protestant congregations led the charge against social ills. The Women's Christian Temperance Union was their chief organisation. Alcohol - the cause of so much misery for southern families -was their special enemy. They sought to reform and purify the social order and make Dunedin a safer place for women and children.

Kensington Sunday School teachersChurch choirs, Sunday Schools, missionary societies and many other church auxiliary organisations were an important social outlet for the women of 'the Flat' as illustrated by this photograph of Kensington Sunday School teachers. As members of groups such as this one they could find companionship, mutual support and a sense of identity. As church came to be seen as 'women's business', this was an environment where women tended to dominate and where women set the agenda. (St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Jubilee Souvenir, 1913, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

Prohibition of alcoholHaving won the vote, the Christian 'feminists' of southern Dunedin wanted to use it to effect. They had a programme of moral crusades in the early twentieth century, none more bitterly contested than the push for Temperance and Prohibition of alcohol. They had some success. Hotels closed down at regular intervals as the number of licences on 'the Flat' was reduced. Ultimately, however, the drive to outlaw alcohol and make the area 'dry' (free from the sale of alcohol) failed. In this cartoon from 1902, the 'wowser' (non-drinking) women and their blind male supporter illustrate the stereotypical 'temperance campaigners' as seen by pro-drink section of society. (The Sketcher, November 1902, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

South Dunedin Presbyterian Church Ladies GuildIn all the churches women raised large sums of money to finance church and school building programmes and foreign missionary work. The South Dunedin Presbyterian Church Ladies Guild, photographed here in 1930, were a good example. These groups of devoted women ran cake stalls and sewing circles and organised fund-raising bazaars on a large scale. The educational and religious infrastructure of South Dunedin owed much to this voluntary female work. (Otago Witness, 1 April 1930. Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

Roman Catholic BallChurches played a major role in courtship, marriage and family formation, especially in their social activities through dances and Bible Classes. Many southern Dunedin romances blossomed after initial meetings at church-sponsored social functions. These provided a safe and socially approved venue for young people to mix. In this photograph ex-pupils of the Christian Brothers School (for boys), and partners, attend a Roman Catholic Ball in 1935. (Caversham Project Archives)

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