March 1940: This month last century

72 years ago, Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage (1872-1940) dies from cancer (27 March 1940)

Michael Joseph Savage was New Zealand’s first Labour Prime Minister. He was born in Victoria, Australia, and arrived in New Zealand in 1907.

Savage was active as a trade unionist and socialist, and first stood for parliament in 1911. In 1919, he became the Labour MP for Auckland West.

In 1935, when voters elected Labour to rule the country, Savage became Prime Minister. Once the Labour party was in power, Savage was able to see that profound, ‘cradle to grave’ social security legislation was passed. This was a blessing for those who had endured the hardships and deprivation of the Great Depression.

Labour also won the general election in 1938, and Te Papa has an autograph album which contains photos and signatures of Labour MPs who were elected to parliament that year. Shown here is the page with ‘Mickey’ Savage’s autograph. 

Autograph album, 1930s, New Zealand. Maker unknown, compiled by Benjamin Roberts. Gift of anonymous donors, 2007. Te Papa

Autograph album, 1930s, New Zealand. Maker unknown, compiled by Benjamin Roberts. Gift of anonymous donors, 2007. Te Papa

New Zealanders felt closely connected to Savage, because of the impact his government’s policies made on their lives.  When he died at the age of 68, the Prime Minster was mourned across the country by many thousands.

Go to the Slice of Heaven exhibition website to read more about social security legislation.

Read about Savage’s life on the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

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