2018 marks 125 years after New Zealand became the first country to grant women the right to vote. The suffrage movement, lead by prominent speakers and writers, was strengthened by the enthusiastic participation of women throughout New Zealand. This included Katherine Mansfield's mother, the 'delicate' Annie Beauchamp.

Annie Beauchamp, Katherine Mansfield’s mother, c1914

The 1893 general election, the first in which women could vote, was also the first to include the newly formed Suburbs of Wellington seat in the House of Representatives. It was in support of local conservative candidate, Dr A K Newman, that Mrs Beauchamp took part in local politics.

While the Ladies' Column of The Evening Post would later frequently mention the social presence of Mrs Beauchamp, it was under the title 'The General Election' in which Annie Beauchamp was named in the edition of the 21st of October 1893. The article reads, 'yesterday a large number of women favourable to Dr. Newman's candidature met at the Parochial Room, Karori. A committee of 25 was appointed, with power to add to the number. Mrs. A. Beauchamp was appointed secretary.’ Named secretary, one can expect that Mrs Beauchamp was a prominent and active participant in local politics. Dr A K Newman, who had previously held the Thorndon and Hutt seats, would have been a well-known local figure to the Beauchamps, who had moved from Thorndon to Karori in 1893. After a successful effort by his supporters, the conservative Newman won the Suburbs of Wellington seat with a majority of 124 votes against liberal candidate Thomas Wilford. 

Dr Alfred Kingcome Newman

Passing on the role of mother to Granny Dyer, her children's grandmother, Annie Beauchamp frequently engaged in local social circles. Her occupation as a society woman likely lead Annie to awareness of the Suffrage movement and her later involvement with local conservative politics.

While her mother was involved in local politics as a result of the accomplishments of New Zealand Suffragists, Katherine Mansfield was opposed to affiliating herself with the Suffrage movement. Leading an unconventional, independent life, Katherine evidently believed in the power of equality that the Suffrage movement worked towards. Katherine’s reluctance to name herself a suffragette may have been a result of her feeling of confinement in conservative New Zealand society or even in opposition to the circles her often distant and aloof mother moved in. 

Evidence of Annie Beauchamp's strong conservative nature is abundant in her behaviour towards her free-spirited daughter Katherine. Upon visiting Katherine in 1909, Annie deposited her pregnant daughter, who had left her husband, in the German spa town of Bad Wörishofen where Katherine could be hidden during her pregnancy for 'reasons of health'. Mrs Beauchamp intended for Katherine to emerge months later, apparently 'cured', while her child would be cared for by nuns in the Klosterhaus, then put up for adoption. On her return to Wellington, Mrs Beauchamp erased Katherine from her will. While the Beauchamps reunited with Katherine after travelling to London in 1911, the relationship between Katherine and her mother remained cool. There were no signs of forgiveness or of welcoming Katherine back into the family. Likely influenced by Annie Beauchamp's conservative concern about status, it was clear that the family wanted to distance themselves from Katherine's questionable reputation.

The Beauchamp Family, 1897

Despite Annie Beauchamp's disapproval of her daughter's use of freedom, Katherine recalls her mother craving independence. Often accompanying her husband on journeys, Katherine remembered her mother once saying that if not for her father's death, she would have liked to become an explorer.

" 'Oh dear,' she said, 'I do wish I hadn't married. I wish I'd been an explorer.' And then dreamily, 'The Rivers of China, for instance…' Then she said, 'If Father hadn't died I should have travelled and then ten to one I shouldn't have married,' And she looked at me dreamily - looked through me rather."   

This craving for independence, unfulfilled despite Annie's dreams, may have contributed to the allure of the increased involvement of women in politics. 

It is precisely the notion that women were best suited to quiet occupation within small social circles that resulted in Katherine Mansfield fleeing New Zealand for a life of increased opportunity in London. However, her mother's quiet involvement in local politics and desire for independence suggests that even the most conservative were beginning to retaliate against inequality between men and women. Rather than reflecting on her mother's conservative values characteristic of Victorian New Zealand, following Annie Beauchamp’s death Katherine wrote in admiration of her mother. “She lived every moment of life more fully and completely than anyone I've ever known—and her gaiety wasn't any less real for being high courage— courage to meet anything with... I love courage—spirit—poise (do you know what I mean? all these words are too little) more than anything.”

In the year of Suffrage 125, let us too celebrate the courage of ordinary women that we might usually overlook.

 

Sources: 

Te Ara Encyclopaedia- Alfred Kingcome Newman
A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield's Wellington, by Redmer Yska 
Katherine Mansfield: Story-Teller, by Kathleen Jones
Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, by Claire Tomalin

Image credits:

Greenwood, Mary Elizabeth, 1873-1961. Annie Burnell Beauchamp. McNamara, G :Portraits of Sir Harold and Lady Beauchamp and James and Vera Bell's house. Ref: PAColl-0674-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22418874

Alfred Kingcome Newman. Ref: 35mm-00107-c-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22799327

The Beauchamp family. Ref: 1/2-044572-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22699896