A History of New Zealand Women

A History of New Zealand Women

What would a history of New Zealand look like that rejected Thomas Carlyle’s definition of history as ‘the biography of great men’, and focused instead on the experiences of women? One that shifted the angle of vision and examined the stages of this country’s development from the points of view of wives, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts? That considered their lives as distinct from (though often unwillingly influenced by) those of history’s ‘great men’?

In her ground-breaking History of New Zealand Women, Barbara Brookes provides just such a history. This is more than an account of women in New Zealand, from those who arrived on the first waka to the Grammy and Man Booker Prize-winning young women of the current decade. It is a comprehensive history of New Zealand seen through a female lens.

Brookes argues that while European men erected the political scaffolding to create a small nation, women created the infrastructure necessary for colonial society to succeed. Concepts of home, marriage and family brought by settler women, and integral to the developing state, transformed the lives of Māori women. The small scale of New Zealand society facilitated rapid change so that, by the twenty-first century, women are no longer defined by family contexts.

In her long-awaited book, Barbara Brookes traces the factors that drove that change. Her lively narrative draws on a wide variety of sources to map the importance in women’s lives not just of legal and economic changes, but of smaller joys, such as the arrival of a piano from England, or the freedom of riding a bicycle.

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Print publication:
Ebook publication: Feb 2016
Pages: 554
RRP: $69.99
ISBN: 9780908321452
ISTC: A0220130000061A1
DOI: 10.7810/9780908321452

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Winner of the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Best Illustrated Non-Fiction, and shortlisted for the 2017 Ernest Scott Prize, 2017 Bert Roth Award, 2017 W H Oliver Prize and the 2016 NZ Heritage Non-Fiction Book Prize!


'Reckoning with Women', Going West audio - Going West Festival episode 29, 11 September 2020, (audio 44'10").

'Our Inspiring Women', Tui Motu, issue 225, April 2018, pp.20-21.

'A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes (review)', Andree Levesque, Histoire Sociale, vol.50, np/101 (May 2017), pp.187-190.

'Brookes delighted at recognition for women’s history', Otago Bulletin Board, 23 May 2017.

'Ockham award for Dunedin historian', John Lewis, Otago Daily Times, 17 May 2017.

Charlotte Paul, 'Book Review: A History of New Zealand Women', NZMJ, 130.1453 (2017), pp.74-75.

Bettina Bradbury, 'A History of New Zealand Women', Australian Historical Studies, 48.1 (2017), pp.141-142.

'Otago Historian named Book Awards finalist', Otago Bulletin Board, 9 March 2017

'“Herstory” in history – Barbara Brookes at Auckland Writers Festival 2016', Roberta Smith, Christchurch City Libraries, 16 May 2016

Changing lives: A History of New Zealand Women, Anne Else, Elsewoman, 13 April 2016

Philippa Tolley interviews Barbara Brookes, Saturday Morning, Radio New Zealand, 9 April 2016

'Book review: A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes', Carole Beu, Nine to Noon, Radio New Zealand, 31 March 2016

'A History of New Zealand Women: an extract', Radio New Zealand, 8 March 2016

Barbara Brookes with Heather du Plessis-Allan, RadioLive, 6 March 2016

'First history of New Zealand women released', Eleanor Black, Sunday Star Times, 21 February 2016

'Our women's history', Bruce Munro, Otago Daily Times, 15 February 2016

Published by BWB

Women in History

Women in History 2

At Home in New Zealand

Related links

Visit Barbara's profile page on The University of Otago website.


'Brookes has surely succeeded in her aim of putting “women fully at the centre of the history of Aotearoa/New Zealand” — the breadth and depth of the work is staggering.' Alison McCulloch, Scoop Review of Books, 18 June 2016

'Read it and be amazed.' Susanna Andrew, Metro, 28 April 2016

'This is a superb New Zealand history through the perspective of women’s lives and all they contributed to our comparatively short but intense experience in Aotearoa. ... Beautifully illustrated and designed, this book will never date.' Marion Castree, Vic Books, 13 April 2016

'I'd describe it as "magisterial".' Gavin Ellis with Kathryn Ryan (12 mins in), Nine to Noon, Radio NZ, 22 March 2016

'...an important book that we can all take something from, it deserves a prominent place on our bookshelves.' Cassie Richards, Salient, 13 March 2016