Story: Kane, Amy Grace

Page 1 - Biography

Kane, Amy Grace

1879–1979

Journalist, community leader

This biography was written by Susan Upton and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Amy Grace Kane was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on 9 December 1879, the daughter of Martha Lydia Warburton and her husband, Robert William Kane, a bank accountant. The family lived in Australia from 1885 to 1899, where Robert managed the Newcastle and Adelaide branches of the Bank of New Zealand. Most of Amy's schooling was in Adelaide. In 1900 the family returned to Wellington where her father managed, and later directed, the BNZ.

In 1906 Amy Kane travelled to England for two years. On returning to Wellington she found that a purely social life was not enough and she became a columnist on the 'Women's Pages' of the New Zealand Free Lance. In 1914 she joined the staff of the New Zealand Times, and when in 1927 it was absorbed by the Dominion she was appointed lady editor. Journalism introduced her to the work of the many women's organisations to which she was to devote her long life.

While she worked hard to improve women's position in society, Amy Kane looked at issues from a middle-class perspective and retained a pride in her background. In 1909 she was a founding member of the Pioneer Club, an élite women's club which became the centre of her social life. As president from 1922 to 1957 she widened her circle of contacts by inviting women working in other fields, here and overseas, to speak. Through the club she became involved in societies such as the British Drama League and the English-Speaking Union.

During the First World War Amy Kane was active in, and wrote about, women's patriotic organisations. Her lifelong support of the Red Cross began around 1915 when she helped to establish the Wellington centre. After accompanying her mother to England and France in 1920, she founded the Pioneer Club debating circle, aimed at teaching women public speaking. The circle affiliated with the National Council of Women of New Zealand, and as their delegate Kane became Wellington branch president in 1923 and national president in 1924. During her presidency she lobbied the government to appoint women as justices of the peace.

Amy Kane was a dictatorial president and women were scandalised to read in the press of two disagreements she had in 1924. A row over the legality of a ballot concerning her 'pet scheme' to buy premises for the Pioneer Club on The Terrace, and the expulsion of Charlotte Henderson, the member who questioned it, ended in court. Henderson was found to have been wrongfully expelled. Then Laura Bunting, editor of the National Council News, resigned after Kane overrode her decision to publish a strongly worded letter criticising the medical establishment. Amy Kane was not deterred. In 1925, on her initiative, the Federation of Women's Clubs in New Zealand was founded and she headed the New Zealand NCW delegation to the International Council of Women conference in Washington. She continued on to London for the inaugural meeting of the British Commonwealth League.

During the depression Kane was involved in relief work for unemployed women. In 1931 she retired from the Dominion and stood for the Wellington City Council, promising to represent women's views. She was unsuccessful, but in 1933 was elected to the Wellington Hospital Board. She retained her seat, on a combined Civic League and Ratepayers' Association then Citizens ticket, until early 1951.

In 1933 there was a crisis in the Women's Institute movement and Kane, as an outsider, was asked to preside over the formation of the New Zealand Federation of Women's Institutes. Her manner had mellowed, and praising her 'tact and ability' the federation appointed her to the dominion executive. She was president from 1938 to 1943. Kane's interest in the international women's movement grew, and in 1935 she was a delegate to the congress of the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship in Istanbul. She then continued to England for the annual meeting of the Associated Country Women of the World. From 1947 to 1953 she was a vice president of this organisation.

Amy Kane was on the national committee of the Women's War Service Auxiliary. After the Second World War she helped to revive the Pan-Pacific Women's Association, leading the New Zealand delegation to Honolulu in 1948. In 1951 she was appointed an OBE for services to women's organisations. She continued to serve them faithfully for another 20 years and in 1963 was the first New Zealand woman to complete 100,000 flying miles.

Amy Kane developed leadership skills and contacts which were especially valuable to those New Zealand women who bridged the gap between the feminist movements of the 1890s and the 1970s. She never married. At the age of 94 she made her last contribution when, aware that the NCW needed headquarters, she offered her Thorndon home on generous terms. Amy Kane died in Wellington on 9 April 1979 in her 100th year.