Ettie Rout: safer sex campaigner

Ettie Rout: safer sex campaigner

Guest blogger Dame Margaret Sparrow writes about safer sex campaigner Ettie Rout: ‘One hundred years ago on 20 October 1915 twelve Volunteer Sisters gathered at Parliament Buildings to sign their Sisterhood Pledge and sailed off to Egypt the following day. The Volunteer Sisters were a band of women organised by Ettie Rout of Christchurch to provide welfare services for the troops stationed in military camps in Egypt. They did not encroach on nursing services but opened canteens, providing a place where the men could relax with good cheap food when off duty.

Passport photograph of Ettie Rout, 1918.
Ettie Rout, 1918. Photographer unknown (Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-4832)

Ettie Rout followed with another group of Volunteer Sisters in December 2015 arriving in Cairo in February. Ettie was concerned at the high rate of venereal disease among the troops and the canteens provided a counter attraction to the brothels of Cairo. Not being medically trained she sought advice from those with expertise and campaigned to provide safer sex for the soldiers.

Education about the risks of unsafe sex was necessary. This was backed up by prophylaxis – actions to prevent disease and early treatment – such as it was in those pre-antibiotic days. After much opposition the military eventually issued New Zealand soldiers with prophylactic kits when going on leave.

The story of this campaign is vividly retold in the book Ettie Rout: New Zealand’s safer sex pioneer by Wellington author Jane Tolerton, published by Penguin Books in September 2015. Copies are available together with a range of other First World War books at Te Papa.

Ettie Rout is also featured in the exhibition Contraception: Uncovering the collection of Dame Margaret Sparrow in the Ilott Room on the 4th floor of Te Papa, free entry until the end of January 2016. Ettie is one of my heroines. She would be amazed at the variety of condoms now available for safer sex.’

Four boxes of contemporary condoms by Durex and Ansell
Contemporary boxes of Durex and Ansell condoms, 2015. Photo by Kate Whitley (Te Papa, MA_I.360227)

Hear Dame Margaret talk about Ettie and other contraceptive heroines of the 1920s: Birth Control: Changing Women’s Lives.

See a quick history of condoms: Get it on: Condoms.


  1. Ettie Rout is a member of my family (Westbrooke) but have not been able to work out how. There were 3 Rout sisters from Onehunga at a Westbrooke reunion in 1990. I have read Janes interesting book and also visited Etties grave in Rarotonga.
    We will be at Te Papa in March. Will your exhibition still be on?

    1. Author

      Kia ora Jocelynne – our Contraception exhibition runs until 30 January 2016. Sadly we don’t have any objects on display from Ettie Rout herself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *