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Finding the missing pieces2 min read

May 5, 2021 2 min

Finding the missing pieces2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Finding the missing details about an American woman who travelled throughout New Zealand in the 19th century as a world missionary for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), is proving to be a headache for local writer, Randolph Hollingsworth.


The One Tree Hill resident is researching for a historical novel about Mary Leavitt’s journey around New Zealand, which took place in 1884. However, although she has some dates and locations, including Mary’s visit to Onehunga, she is missing others. “It’s a puzzle,” she says.


The WCTU, which is still active in New Zealand today, was originally formed in the USA in 1873. It was among the first women-led organisations, which not only played an influential role in the temperance movement but was committed to progressive social reform, in areas such as prostitutionpublic health and sanitation. Women were considered to be among the worst affected by alcohol abuse, because they were usually dependent on men for money to run their homes and families. As their numbers grew, the WCTU also campaigned strongly for women’s political rights, helping New Zealand women win the vote in 1893.


Mary Leavitt (1830-1912) spent a decade travelling the world with few financial resources. She set up WCTU chapters in every country she visited, educated people about alcohol abuse, and advocated for women’s suffrage and their right to higher education. After setting up the Auckland chapter, she spoke at churches in Ponsonby, Remuera, Newton, Parnell, Newmarket and Onehunga. In Onehunga, she participated in a Blue Ribbon Army meeting with Richard Booth at the Onehunga Congregational Church, where 600 people took the pledge to stop drinking alcohol.


Randolph would like to hear from anyone who might have details about Mary Leavitt and her visit to New Zealand – even down to the smaller details such as how she would have travelled around. She would also like to know more about the women who made up the first Auckland chapter. These include secretary, Jane Holloway, who is buried at Waikaraka Cemetery, president Ann Brame, and treasurer Helen Dewar. Department superintendants include Elizabeth More (heredity and hygiene), and Annie Jane Schnackenburg (education).


If you have any information, please email


To find out more about her project, go to


Randolph Hollingsworth wants more information about Mary Leavitt (inset)