Fifty year wait for the loo

Auckland’s first Council-funded toilet was built for men on Queen Street wharf in 1863. However, the first Council-funded women’s facilities did not open until 1915 - after women’s groups and the district health officer had spent many years agitating for them. Prior to the Wyndham Street loos opening, women relied on toilets at the public library, railway station, ferry company and stores – who lavishly advertised these sought-after conveniences. The Strand Café offered “beautifully fitted ladies’ lavatories”, and Smith and Caughey “cordially invited” ladies “to make free use of our up-to-date writing and retiring rooms and lavatories.”

Council refused to include women’s restrooms in the new town hall – although it provided full men’s facilities. It wasn’t until 1937 that the Wellesley Street East women’s loos were built – partly in response to the lack of women’s toilets in the town hall since it opened in 1911. Council also failed to provide mothers’ restrooms when planning the Civic Square, suggesting that “this was not a public need, but an agitation by a small section of the community.”

To refute this claim, a 1924 meeting in support of women’s restrooms was attended by ministers and clergy of all denominations and representatives of over twenty societies including St John Ambulance, Girl Guides Association and the Women’s National Reserve. The Civic League’s Alice Basten listed nearly 20 towns in New Zealand who already had mothers’ rest room. Mrs Ballantyne of the International League said “It was disgraceful that mothers had to go down side streets to attend to their children,” and Mr T. Bloodworth noted “If father had to push the pram… there would be rest rooms in every street.”

Finally, in 1927, a mothers’ restroom opened in the reserve on the corner of Symonds Street and Karangahape Road. It included a sitting room, changing rooms, pram room and lavatories. However, although public restrooms were free for men, women had to pay a penny to use the lavatory, and tuppence to use a wash-hand basin and towel.


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