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The ladies' gallery at Parliament

Audio file

Hear the poem 'In the ladies' gallery'.

The ladies' gallery was located opposite the Speaker, supposedly not to distract MPs when speaking. At least New Zealand women could sit out in the open. In Britain's House of Commons, women had to sit behind a grille because it was thought their presence would divert members from their proper business.

The position of the ladies' gallery did not stop politicians playing to the women above or turning their backs on the Speaker to direct their speeches to the gallery. Some MPs signalled to their wives and daughters from the floor of the House and vice versa. The gallery had its own rules, too. Women could knit and sew, and even today, MPs' spouses retain the long-standing right to knit, sew, embroider and darn.

There was a distinct pecking order among the women who sat in the ladies' gallery in the 19th century.


Up in the ladies' gallery
'Tis curious quite to see
The difference shown by ladies
To ladies of different degree,
If you want a lesson in manners
And have half-an-hour to spare,
Go up to the ladies' gallery,
There are patterns of all sorts there.

They sit in a row, pretty creatures,
From la dame to the raw girl down,
From the plain looped-up black lustre,
to the sable trimmed velvet gown,
When you enter they eye you coldly,
With a fixed supercilious stare,
You will scarcely believe it, but really
The best of manners grow there.

Jackson Palmer cartoon

The well-known dandy Jackson Palmer, Member of Parliament (MP) for Waitemata, plays to the ladies' gallery in 1893.


Sound: Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Image: New Zealand Graphic, 23 September 1893

How to cite this page

The ladies' gallery at Parliament, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated