Suffrage 125 : Kitty Mildenhall

kitty m 1977
Mrs Kitty Mildenhall in 1977, the year she retired after 12 years as a Lower Hutt City Councillor and was on the Library Committee. Hutt City Libraries collection.

Mrs Kitty Mildenhall (1898-1987) was a great example of a woman working in previously male-dominated roles in the council and community positions. She was awarded an MBE in the 1974 New Year’s honours for her valuable community service. On retiring from her councillor role in 1977 Kitty Mildenhall was made a life member of the Labour Party for her 60 years service to the Party.

When elected to Lower Hutt City Council in 1965 Kitty Mildenhall had been on the Country Women’s Institute since 1945, was elected to the Hutt Hospital Board in the late 1950s and was the only woman member of the Hutt Valley and Bays Fire Board. She was also a member of the choir of St. David’s Church in Naenae, a J.P. and a member of the Women’s Branch of the R.S.A.

She was a “tenacious and dedicated fighter” in her role on the Wellington Hospital Board, advocating strongly for both the Hutt Maternity Hospital and a clinical block at Hutt Hospital to be built. Initially she was the first woman on the Wellington Hospital Board.

 

kitty and hospital
Kitty Mildenhall in front of Hutt Hospital’s new wing. Evening Post 19 June 1976.

Early life

Born in May 1898 and baptised Katie May Honor Hawkins in London in 1899 the same day as her sister Isabel. Her father Charles Frederick Hawkins was a French polisher by trade, but later a foundation member of the British Labour Party. Her name Honor was to mark a victory by her father in keeping the local Southeast London council from taking a piece of common land called ‘Honor Oak Park’.

When the family moved to Sussex Charles became a city councillor in Hove, Sussex, England. Kitty followed this allegiance to the Labour Party and city councillor work in the Hutt Valley, winning a seat on the Wellington Hospital Board and the Lower Hutt City Council on a Labour ticket, carrying on a ‘family habit’ (Evening Post, 23 December 1965).

baptism hawkins
Baptism image from Ancestry.com, free access in all Hutt City Libraries.

Father Charles Hawkins’ occupation is listed as a trade union official worker in the 1901 Census where the family is living in Peckham, Camberwell, London.

1901
UK 1901 Census image from Ancestry.com, free access in all Hutt City Libraries.

By 1911 she had a younger brother Joseph. The family were still living in Peckham, Camberwell, London.

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UK 1911 Census image from Ancestry.com, free access in all Hutt City Libraries.

When World War One broke out Kitty was working as a typist and keen to ‘do her bit’. She enlisted in the Women’s Legion, helping in administration in military camps. When women were mobilised for the war effort Kitty transferred to the Royal Air Force in 1916 and continued working for the RAF after the war.

In 1919 she resigned to travel to New Zealand with her friend Gladys Ball, both convinced by NZ servicemen that New Zealand was “God’s own country” and thinking ‘life at home was a bit dull’. (Evening Post, 19 June 1976).

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Passenger list image from Ancestry.com, free access in all Hutt City Libraries.

They arrived on the ‘Pakeha’ in Wellington in June 1921. Kitty didn’t intend to settle in New Zealand but met Walter Mildenhall, from Johnsonville, Wellington, through her friend Gladys and they married in 1924. The Mildenhalls were early settlers in the area. In the 1920s the couple purchased a house in Naenae where Kitty lived for over 50 years, on the corner of Naenae Road and Seddon Street, which was then a market gardening and farming area. View historic aerials of Hutt City.

Lower Hutt City Council

In 1954 her husband Walter Mildenhall was elected to the Lower Hutt City Council, serving until 1959, and again from 1962 until his death in 1964. Kitty was elected to the Lower Hutt City Council in 1965.

EP 1969
Councillor Kitty Mildenhall, sole woman representative on the Lower Hutt City Council Reserves Committee, studies an aerial photo of Lower Hutt with fellow councillors and officials. Evening Post 19 April 1969.
DIC
Mrs Kitty Mildenhall (centre), as chair of the Wellington Hospital Board’s social welfare committee, views the D.I.C’s 85th birthday cake. D.I.C. manager Mr. C. Maxted (left) is gifting the cake to the Lower Hutt’s ‘meals on wheels’ scheme organiser Miss C. Garside (right). Hutt News 4 June 1969.

 

naenae and kitty
Councillor S. V. Frost turns the first sod in May 1977 in the new housing project to be known as Naenae Court, providing pensioner units and public rental units. Councillor Kitty Mildenhall is fourth from left. Hutt City Libraries collection.

Councillor Walter Mildenhall was honoured with the ‘Naenae Community Reserve’, outside the Naenae Community Centre, being renamed ‘Walter Mildenhall Park’ in 1964.

As well as lobbying Mayor Percy Dowse for the Hutt Hospital Maternity Hospital and new clinical services wing to be built, Kitty Mildenhall persistently lobbied for a public library branch at Naenae. She claimed Naenae had been treated as the ‘Cinderella suburb because it is a state housing area’ but emphasised she was ‘proud of Naenae’.  (Evening Post, 19 June 1976).

park
Councillors E. Gibbs and Kitty Mildenhall view the Walter Mildenhall Park’s new sign. Hillary Court shopping area is at right, c1982. Hutt City Libraries collection.

When Kitty Mildenhall retired from her councillor role in 1977 she was 79, and died in December 1986 aged 85 years. Kitty made several long visits back to England in the 1920s and the 1950s so didn’t lose touch with her homeland.

The Naenae Library (opened in 1970) was renamed the Kitty Mildenhall (Naenae) Library in March 1987 ‘as a fitting tribute to her work for the city’ (Hutt News 3 March 1987). Together with her husband Walter the Mildenhalls ‘represented Naenae in a special way’ (Evening Post, 24 Feb 1987).

naenae libry
Hutt News, 3 March 1987. Hutt City Libraries collection.

Kitty and Walter Mildenhall had 2 sons and 1 daughter. Their daughter Pamela Mildenhall was the first woman Anglican priest to be ordained in the Wellington diocese and one of the first women priests in New Zealand. She is currently an Anglican Canon Emeritus. Kitty and Walter’s grandson Tony Mildenhall was a Trade Commissioner for New Zealand who had postings in the Philippines and South Korea before his early death in 1993.

Bibliography:

Hospital in the Valley by Craig MacKenzie

‘Obituary: Mr W Mildenhall’ in Evening Post, 6 Jan 1964

‘Mrs. K. M. H. Mildenhall carries on a “Family Habit”‘ in Evening Post, 23 Dec 1965

‘Honours for four in the New Year list’ in Hutt News, 23 Jan 1974

‘Kitty the Fighter’ in Evening Post, 19 June 1976

‘Former Cr Mildenhall dies at 85’ in Hutt News, 20 Jan 1987

‘Library gets renamed’ in Hutt News, 3 March 1987

Tony Mildenhall in Hutt News, 3 August 1993


In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world in which all women gained the right to vote in general elections. 2018 marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. For more information about the anniversary visit Suffrage 125 on Facebook.

This is part of a series sharing the stories and lives of women who have a connection to Lower Hutt.

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