Page 1: Biography
Cabot, Dolce Ann
Teacher, journalist, feminist
This biography, written by Helen Debenham, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Dolce Ann Cabot was born at Christchurch, New Zealand, on 25 November 1862, the eldest daughter of Louisa Augusta Kunkel, whose father was a Prussian army officer, and her husband, Thomas Cabot, a farmer and language teacher from Jersey. After 1865 the family lived mainly on their farm at Otipua, near Timaru. Dolce was educated privately at first and is reputed to have read French and German by the age of 10. From late 1878 to December 1880 she attended Christchurch Girls' High School, then spent two years at the teacher training department of Christchurch Normal School before taking up a position at Timaru Main School, where she remained until 1891.
In 1887 Dolce Cabot began extramural study from Canterbury College, attending lectures in 1891 and 1892. She failed to complete her BA, but as a result of some trenchant articles on women's suffrage published in the Canterbury Times succeeded in gaining employment as editor of the 'Ladies' page' of that paper, a position she held from May 1894 until October 1907. Her appointment is said to have been the first of any woman to the staff of a New Zealand newspaper.
Dolce Cabot published some poetry and a few short stories; two poems were included in W. F. Alexander and A. E. Currie's anthology, New Zealand verse (1906). But she correctly identified journalism as her significant work. In contrast to the more common use of pseudonyms and anonymity, Cabot's weekly pages carried her own name, evidently signalling her determination to advance the cause of women. While she always included social and fashion notes, handy hints and syndicated material, her editorial purpose was clearly educational: she reported women's successes and encouraged women to aim at professionalism – a quality much praised in her own work – in all areas of their lives. Sensible exercise and dress as a means to good health, proper training for housewives and domestic workers, new career opportunities, and the practice and philosophy of education (with an emphasis on the role and rights of female teachers) were recurrent themes.
Equally important to the development of women, in Cabot's eyes, were moral, humanitarian and artistic interests. She recommended charity and common-sense Christianity; denounced the sweated labour of Christchurch dressmakers; deplored child marriage in India and the wearing of sealskin coats; and organised collections for soldiers in South Africa. In 1894 she promoted the establishment of a women's orchestra, and the following year, with Christina Henderson and others, founded a club, known as The Idlers, which offered recitations and music as a recreation for women of 'the brain-working class'. She wrote knowledgeably about art.
Although Cabot's themes remained relatively constant during her editorship, her political orientation changed. As an ardent suffragist she had sympathetically reported meetings of women's groups, and at a meeting of the Canterbury Women's Institute in 1896 proposed a motion calling for the admission of women to Parliament. But after the turn of the century she displayed doubts about the extension of women's sphere, even while she continued to advocate it. Typically for her time, her ideological commitment to justice and equality for women was always based on a belief in their inherent moral superiority and the pre-eminence of their role as wives and mothers.
Dolce Cabot resigned from the Canterbury Times when she married Andrew Duncan, a railway stationmaster, at Timaru on 30 October 1907. Although she promised to continue as an occasional correspondent for the paper, she appears to have published little after this time. Seven step-children from her husband's previous marriage, his career which entailed shifts to Greymouth about 1910, Wellington in 1912 and Auckland in 1915, and his disinclination for public life may all have helped to curtail her literary activities. However, given her growing conservatism about working wives and her unswerving moral principles, Dolce Duncan most probably practised what Dolce Cabot had preached.
She continued to take a keen interest in education, especially that of women. In 1922 she helped launch the Ladies' Mirror in Auckland, contributing an article on 'The Auckland Women's Club' for the first issue, but published only two further articles in the magazine, on literary subjects. On her husband's retirement in 1922 the couple moved to Manurewa, and about 1928 returned to Christchurch, where Andrew died in 1935. Dolce Duncan died at Christchurch on 31 May 1943. The brevity of her obituaries is perhaps the clearest testimony to her withdrawal from public life in her later years: a few lines marked the career of a woman who, as a pioneer among journalists, had helped shape the opinions of a generation of Canterbury women.