A Mother’s Boon

To celebrate Mother’s Day this year we are focusing on places of rest for women in Hawke’s Bay.

The Hastings Municipal Women’s Rest was the first purpose built rest-room for women to be constructed in New Zealand.  Prior to the construction of this brand new amenity, public bathrooms were only available for men, while women were accommodated at department stores and shops. However, under the suggestion of the Hastings Mayor at the time, George Ebbett, a committee was set up to improve and cater for the needs of mothers and the growing number of businesswomen in the Hastings region. The Hastings Women’s rest was designed in a Californian Bungalow style and cost £2500 to construct, largely funded by private contributions. On 8 September 1921 the building was officially opened and almost 100,000 women used the facility over the course of the first year.

W4 (a)Women’s Rest Rooms, Hastings, Dave Williams (d.1972), photographer, gifted by H J Williams, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, W4(a)

W4 (b)Women’s Rest Rooms, Hastings, Dave Williams (d.1972), photographer, gifted by H J Williams, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, W4(a)

The Official Handbook of Hastings – for Tourist, Sportsman and Settler, 1929, stated that the purpose of the Hasting’s Women’s rest was:

“..to serve as a retiring place where young businesswomen may spend their lunch hour and of a place of rest to mothers or women visitors to Hastings. Here they might obtain light refreshments, mothers may attend to their children, warm their babies bottles, leave their parcels, write letters, read journals and attend to their toilet.”

By 1929 there were 170 visitors to the women’s rest daily, acting not only as a comfort stop for women but also as a safe and restful place for mothers and their children. The building still operates today with a few structural changes and is home to the Heretaunga Women’s Centre.

The Napier Women’s Rest was built in 1925 as a memorial to those who served in the First World War. In the aftermath of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake it served as a central support for the northern block of Tin Town with the corrugated iron buildings knitted on to its side. A plaque on the building states that it was destroyed by the earthquake and rebuilt in 1934 but historical photos show otherwise.

7866Memorial Square, Napier, Frank Duncan & Co, gifted by Mrs J Mayes, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, m98/22

3278 fTin Town, Napier, A B Hurst & Son, gifted by Dale Connelly, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 3278f

m2006.140.20(2)Architecture plan, suggestion for Mother’s Rest, Napier, James Augustus Louis Hay (b.1881, d.1948), gifted by Judd Fenwick Natusch Architects, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 6524

The visitor book for the Napier Women’s Rest from 1926-1945, which we hold in our collection, is full of comments such as: a Mother’s joy, a credit to Napier, a restful little spot, an everlasting memorial, an inspiration to other towns. We also hold in our collection the original architectural plans for this building,  titled ‘Mother’s Rest’ by architect Louis Hay who designed it in his signature domestic Prairie style. The Napier Women’s Rest has had various uses over time, mainly as a community centre, and is currently unoccupied as it requires earthquake strengthening.

The constructions of these women’s rest-rooms were an important part of New Zealand’s changing attitudes towards women and creating spaces specifically for them. More importantly over the years the local community has welcomed them and made use of the space to continue the vision as a place for women to rest.

Sarah Powell
Collection Assistant-Photography
May 2014


2 thoughts on “A Mother’s Boon

  1. I very much enjoyed this post about Women’s Rests in Hawkes Bay. I remember as a pre-schooler in the early 1950s my mother taking me to the Hastings Women’s Rest where we would have lunch (egg sandwiches) and watch the trains go by, heading to Wellington. I thought it was such a treat!

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