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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Mary Mueller

b. 1820, London; d. 1901, Blenheim, New Zealand

Mary Ann Muller, the first suffrage advocate in New Zealand, emigrated from London to the colony in 1850, where she kept abreast of the burgeoning women’s movements in England and the United States. A widow with two children, she worked as a teacher in Nelson until her marriage in 1851 to Stephen Muller, a surgeon. Her husband disapproved of her feminist ideas but she found allies among members of their social circle, including Charles Elliott, editor of the Nelson Examiner, who invited her to publish in his newspaper. To preserve domestic tranquility, Muller operated behind the scenes, lobbying political friends and writing anonymously under the pen name “Femmina.” Her work was guided by two principle concerns: first, the denial of the franchise to women, and second, the legal liabilities they faced, particularly their lack of property rights. In her pamphlet, An Appeal to the Men of New Zealand (1869), she shrewdly couched her argument for women’s rights in a narrative of progress and nation-building. The Married Women’s Property Act of 1870 incorporated many of her ideas. Muller’s identity became common knowledge only in 1898, after suffrage had been achieved, and she was hailed as a pioneer.