Safe sex campaigner

World War I hero and early safe-sex campaigner

As the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I nears, Ettie Rout is still remembered as a hero amongst historians in France and New Zealand.

Born in Tasmania, Rout grew up in Wellington.

Early work included being a typist, reporter, a businesswoman and a writer. But her most important work – which at the time was shunned by many in New Zealand - was as a supporter of initiatives which would curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

At the onset of World War I she founded the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood.


As part of that work, she travelled to Egypt in 1916 to help care for wounded or ill New Zealand soldiers. Once there she was shocked at the level of soldiers who had STDs.

Her campaigning saw prophylactic kits – including condoms and ointment – being issued to all New Zealand troops by the end of 1917. She also inspected brothels in Paris and the Somme; work that saw her being decorated by French authorities – receiving a Reconnaissance Francaise medal - and earning mentions in military dispatches back to New Zealand.

While her work was heralded on the front lines, back home it was the subject of harsh criticism. Her legacy lives on, with Christchurch's AIDs clinic being named after her.