MORISON, Harriet Russell
Trade unionist and feminist.
A new biography of Morison, Harriet Russell appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Harriet Russell Morison was born in Ireland in 1862, the daughter of Margaret (née Clarke) and James Morison, a master tailor. The family emigrated to Dunedin in 1867, where she later became a tailoress and began her lifetime work on behalf of women workers. In 1888 an outcry in Dunedin against the exploitation of women workers resulted in the formation of a tailoresses' union, the first women's trade union in the country, with Harriet Morison at its head. In the next 20 years her work for the union, both in Dunedin and throughout the country, was invaluable, as she invigorated the timorous union, organised recruitment meetings, and forced employers to accept the union's code. Her concern for women workers was continued after 1906, when she became the first woman inspector of factories and, from 1908 to 1921, when she was the head of the Women's Employment Bureau in Auckland. In a variety of other spheres Harriet Morison was a prominent figure. For 14 years she held the position of official visitor to the Seacliff Mental Hospital. One of the earliest women preachers in the country, she frequently preached in the Bible Christian Church, and later held the position of chairwoman of the Unitarian Church Committee. In the women's suffrage campaign she also played a prominent role, speaking for the cause throughout the country and, with Helen Nicol, founding the Dunedin Franchise League, of which she became a committee member. Harriet Morison died in Auckland on 19 August 1925.
The early success of the women's trade unions in imposing their desired reforms on employers and Parliament was due largely to the work of Harriet Morison, and her energy and evangelical fervour left a lasting imprint on the character of the unions. In the nascent feminist movement her example was cited repeatedly to show that women could organise and administer with as much ability as men. For the early success of the suffrage movement in particular her influence was invaluable, mainly because her union activity enabled her to enlist the support of thousands of working-class women who might otherwise have remained outside the largely middle-class campaign.
by Patricia Ann Grimshaw, M.A., Auckland.
- New Zealand Herald, 20 Aug 1925 (Obit).