Mrs Annie Huggan, Mayor of Petone 1957-1965, was a diminutive Yorkshire-born powerhouse. She was elected Mayor of Petone on the Labour ticket after the sudden death of her husband Petone Mayor Joe Huggan in 1957. Annie was proud of being the first New Zealand ‘lady mayor’ to complete a full-term and the second elected woman mayor since Elizabeth Yates became Mayor of Onehunga in 1893.
In 1971 Annie was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her community work for the Petone borough. She was involved in many charity and sporting groups in both Petone and Korokoro during her life.
Born Lily Annie Brown in Halifax, Yorkshire in 1890 Annie was a mill worker in Yorkshire mills and unusually for the times managed a team of men.
She emigrated to Wellington in 1922 on the “Ionic” along with her parents and brother. Annie immediately found work at the Wellington Woollen Mills in Petone where she met Yorkshire man Joe Huggan, a weaver. After marrying Joe in 1923 they moved to Korokoro, left their mill work and set up a shop they ran from their house.
An expert on ‘invisible mending’ and dyeing, a skill she learned in Yorkshire, Annie also established Huggan’s ‘Darning and Invisible Mending Experts’ business and was still mending into the 1970s.
The Huggans had no children but were known as the ‘father and mother’ to the district. Both active in community affairs (such as the Korokoro Ratepayers Association) and active Labour Party members, Joe Huggan was elected to Petone Council in 1935 and elected Mayor in 1950. Work pressure forced the Huggans to sell their house in 1952 (including the shop/post office) and move from Korokoro, which Annie was “homesick” for, to 73 Cuba Street, Petone.
The Huggans were always available to people, leaving their porch light switched on to signal the Mayor was home. Every New Year’s eve they had an ‘open house’, with a piper to pipe out the old year and in the new.
When Joe died suddenly while Mayor in 1957 the Petone Council asked Annie to stand for election as mayor, not something she had ever sought. “I want to be treated as a mayor, not as a woman” Annie said on being voted in as mayor, a sign of the uniqueness of her woman mayor role in 1957. People initially approached her for help because she was a woman mayor, thinking she was an ‘easy touch’. Annie was happy to help out with ‘relief funds’ for the needy through the regular channels.
Annie started running naturalisation ceremonies in Petone – after attending one in Wellington she decided she could do better in Petone. Internal Affairs reportedly wrote her naturalisation ceremony was the “best and finest ever performed in NZ”. She also enjoyed entertaining visitors such as Sioux Chief Walking Buffalo and other Sioux Indians and meeting the Canadian Prime Minister. She relished her role as Mayor.
After finishing as Mayor in 1965 Annie Huggan continued living in Petone, running her ‘darning and invisible mending’ business and being involved in many community organisations.
In 1979 Petone Borough Council held a special function marking her 57 years of community service. Both Annie and husband Joe strongly supported Petone remaining independent of both Wellington and Lower Hutt and we imagine would have strongly opposed council amalgamation in 1989.
Annie Huggan died in May 1983 in Petone, aged 93. In 1990 ‘Annie Huggan Grove’ was named in her honour, recommended by the Petone Community Board.
NZ Women’s Weekly, 22 August 1960, No dull moment in Petone’s First Woman’s Life
Evening post, 5 November 1960, Mayor Annie Huggan keeps light burning on her front porch
Dominion, 6 January 1971, Expert in a dying art
Evening post, 2 January 1971, A special New Year’s eve for Annie Huggan
Evening post, 5 May 1983, Petone mourns staunch advocate Annie Huggan
Petone Herald, 11 February 2002, Petone Mayor’s portrait now a city treasure