The first female mayor in the British Commonwealth

Elizabeth Yates – born Elizabeth Oman, in Scotland, in 1845 – is looked back on as being a true pioneer for women in the realm of local body politics.

In 1893 she was elected as the mayor of the Onehunga borough; in the process becoming the first woman anywhere in the British Empire to become a mayor.

Her election success also came on the day that New Zealand women made history worldwide by becoming the first to vote in a general election.

Yates had travelled to New Zealand with her family in 1853 and married Michael Yates – a councillor on the Onehunga Borough Council and future mayor of the Onehunga borough – in 1875.


Michael Yates had to step aside as mayor due to ill-health, with his wife winning the subsequent election.

Her election was congratulated by Queen Victoria and New Zealand Premier, Richard Seddon.

But it sent shockwaves through some on the council, with four councillors and the town clerk quitting in protest.

Her tenure lasted until November 1894, with a heavy election loss.