Māori feminist

Pioneer for Māori women's rights and the first Māori female university graduate

The website of the Mira Szászy Research Centre for Māori and Pacific Economic Development in Auckland University's business school highlights Szászy's long, and as yet still unsuccessful, fight for women to have speaking rights on the marae.

"Even the marae itself is a symbol of oppression for me because it is there that I am denied my very basic right of free speech," she said.

Szászy was born in remote Waihopo north of Kaitaia to a Yugoslav dad Lawrence Petricevich and a mum, Makareta Raharuhi, of Ngāti Kuri, Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri descent. The oppression of Māori was in her veins, even though she was fostered by a Pākehā teacher's family after her mother died young. In 1945 she became the first Māori woman to earn a bachelor's degree.

She told author Virginia Myers in 1987 that she became aware of the oppression of women as well as of Māori when she started working as a welfare officer in the Māori Affairs Department in 1946 and observed "job discrimination" within the department.

She worked with other welfare officers from the department and community leaders such as Whina Cooper to establish the Māori Women's Welfare League in 1951, becoming its first executive secretary and later its president.

Years later, she was part of an advisory committee that led to the creation of the Ministry of Women's Affairs in 1984, including its Māori division, Te Ohu Whakatupu.

She married Alfred Szászy, an Aucklander of Hungarian heritage, and worked as a teacher, teachers' college lecturer and director of community education at Ngā Tapuwae College.

She was made a dame in 1990.