Connie Purdue

Connie Purdue (1912–2000).

‘I was born a rebel, I lived a rebel and I am what my life has made me, still a rebel.’ (Connie Purdue, 1985)

A long-time trade unionist, women’s equal pay campaigner and advocate for the working woman, Connie Purdue recalled the heady early days of second-wave feminism: ‘I often look back to those days and a feeling of a golden glow, of working together. Something that seemed very simple and just and good’.

But the movement’s unity would be tested by controversial issues such as contraception and abortion, and by the end of the 1970s Connie had become an outspoken critic of the mainstream feminist movement.

Connie Purdue advocating for equal pay and job opportunities for women. (TVNZ)

In the late 1960s and 1970s Connie fought for women’s rights on many fronts. She was secretary of the Council for Equal Pay and Opportunity in 1969, joined the Auckland University women’s liberation group in 1971 and helped facilitate Australian feminist Germaine Greer’s New Zealand tour in 1972. In 1973 she led a demonstration calling for women to be able to work as newsreaders on radio and television. She was elected to the Auckland Hospital Board in 1974, and was the women’s representative of the Labour Party between 1974 and 1978. In 1975 she was made an MBE for her work with women and children, and her lobbying for an inquiry into women’s rights led to the passing of the Human Rights Act 1977.

In 1972 Connie and Sue Kedgley had formed the National Organisation for Women – NOW; Connie was its first president. Based on NOW USA, it sought women’s equality in law, the workplace, education and family life. One of its early aims, which Connie announced at a press conference, was to end the practice of listing ‘situations vacant’ advertisements by gender.

NOW grew rapidly, establishing branches throughout New Zealand and attracting many career women. It convened large public meetings on education, health, violence against women and women’s legal position, but issues like contraception and abortion divided members. Connie was Catholic and firmly opposed to abortion, a position that put her at odds with the majority of women’s liberationists, who saw abortion as a woman’s choice.

A turning point for Connie was when Auckland University’s student newspaper advertised a pro-abortion march in 1973. The headline read ‘Ladies, Lose Ten Pounds Excess Flesh’. Furious, Connie wrote an open letter to the editor proposing an alternative headline ‘Fathers And Mothers, Lose By Poisoning, Burning or Dismemberment Your Full Time Daughter Or Son’.

Soon after, Connie joined the anti-abortion organisation Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) and adopted a pro-family stance. Even though she admitted she had ‘walked out on two husbands and two homes’, she argued that ‘the greatest gift we can give our children is a warm, happy, loving home-life’. Although she opposed the majority of women’s liberationists she continued to advocate for women as a pro-life campaigner, arguing for a return to traditional gender roles, with men working and adopting a protective stance while women concentrated on being the homemaker.

Further reading:

Raewyn Dalziel, ‘National Organisation for Women 1972’, in Anne Else (ed.), Women together: a history of women’s organisations in New Zealand. Ngā rōpū wāhine o te motu, Daphne Brasell Associates Press and Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1993

Robyn Rowland (ed.), Women who do and women who don’t join the women’s movement, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1984

https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/anti-abortion-march-wellington

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