How many times have you been out and about and busting for a loo?
Well, Mary Josephine Player knew what it was like, so she did something about it.
Mary was a battler for better conditions for women. She advocated for factory workers and for a well appointed rest room in the middle of Wellington for women to use.
At the time, women had to use shop facilities - not always available or semi-private ones if someone would let them.
Mary Josephine Crampton was born in 1857 to Patrick Crampton and Mary O’Brien in County Kilkenny in Ireland.
She received a little schooling and at 16, signed on to come to New Zealand in 1874 as a general servant by assisted passage. She was one of many many girls who wanted a better life. They were also more likely to get married in New Zealand where men greatly outnumbered women.
And in 1877 she was married to Edward Player at St Mary of the Angels church.
Edward wasn’t wealthy but he was a hard worker, running a grocery store for a while and then became a milkman and then a signwriter.
Mary worked too, often as a midwife. She had a warm and generous nature and was often helping disadvantaged women.
She became a member of the Wellington Ladies’ Christian Association which ran a home for unmarried mothers , the Alexandra Home for Friendless Women.
In 1894 she found the Women’s Social and Political League and became its first president.
The league had lofty objectives 'to spread knowledge amongst the women of Wellington on the political questions of the day'. Its platform included the enactment of equitable laws affecting marriage, divorce and the custody of children; the adjustment of women's wages and their hours of labour, and the appointment of inspectors to monitor these; and the appointment of women to hospital boards, charitable aid boards and other public bodies.
In part, because of them, a women’s branch of the Department of Labour was set up.
Mary wasn’t universally popular and after a challenge to her leadership she set up the Women’s Democratic Union as a break away group. But here Mary’s lack of education and political experience left her ill equipped to deal with infighting. She resigned from the union.
Despite this she continued to try and improve working conditions for women - including the restrooms in Wellington for women.
Edward died in 1905 and Mary’s world fell apart. It left her and her children homeless - she had had seven.
She continued to take any work she could before moving to Nelson to live with her youngest daughter.
Mary died on January 5, 1924 with a coroner’s inquest saying it was suicide by drowning while suffering from mental depression caused by serious internal ailment.’
She is buried with her husband at Karori Cemetery.
Photo by Tim Mossholder.
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