125th anniversary of Suffrage in New Zealand

First female Anglican diocesan bishop appointed

29 June 1990

Penny Jamieson during her ordination ceremony, 1990
Penny Jamieson during her ordination ceremony, 1990 (Otago Daily Times)

Dr Penny Jamieson’s rise through church ranks was rapid. The first women were ordained to the Anglican priesthood in New Zealand in 1977. The English-born Jamieson was ordained and appointed to a Wellington parish in 1985.

Jamieson’s appointment as Bishop of Dunedin in June 1990 made her the first woman to head an Anglican diocese. (Barbara Harris had become Bishop Suffragan – in effect, Assistant Bishop – of Massachusetts in 1989.)

This innovation did not meet with universal approval. Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe refused to attend the ceremony, believing that it was not culturally appropriate to have a female bishop. He still held this opinion when he was appointed as Archbishop of New Zealand in 2004.

For her part, Jamieson saw her appointment as giving ‘enormous encouragement’ to women in all areas of society. She felt that ‘the glass ceiling’ had been broken. At her investiture as a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, however, she expressed disappointment that no women had yet followed in her footsteps.

Jamieson retired in June 2004. In August 2008, Victoria Matthews became New Zealand’s second woman bishop when she was elected Bishop of Christchurch.