A History of New Zealand Women

Book Author  Barbara Brookes
Rights Available World Excl NZ

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.

Ockham NZ Book Award for Best Illustrated Non-Fiction 2017


About the Author
Barbara Brookes is a Professor of History at the University of Otago whose research, writing and teaching have contributed significantly to new perspectives on women’s history. She has explored a range of topics in imaginative ways, often in collaboration with scholars from different disciplines. Consistently, however, she has placed women at the centre of her research, and A History of New Zealand Women draws together many threads from some three decades of scholarly investigation.

Publishing both internationally and in New Zealand, she has co-edited several books on women’s history and on health. These include: Bodily Subjects: Essays on Gender and Health, 1800–2000 (2014), with Tracy Penny Light and Wendy Mitchinson; Rethinking the Racial Moment: Essays on the Colonial Encounter (2011), with Alison Holland; Sites of Gender: Women, Men and Modernity in Southern Dunedin, 1890–1939 (2003), with Annabel Cooper and Robin Law; and two volumes on Women in History (1986, 1992), with Charlotte Macdonald and Margaret Tennant. Her work has also appeared widely in journals and in edited collections.


Bridget Williams Books


240 x 170mm


Non Fiction


Age range
Young Adult & Upwards

Publication Date
February 2016

Rights Available:
World (ex NZ)

Rights Agents:


Tom Rennie, Bridget Williams Books

Contact Bridget Williams Books about this book

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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

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

'I'd describe it as "magisterial".

Gavin Ellis with Kathryn Ryan Nine to Noon, Radio NZ