The Rise of the Restrooms

While the underground conveniences were modern and state of the art when they were first built in 1910, they were no match for the rest rooms which rose to prominence in the 1920’s.

The women’s undergrounds in the Octagon had a small waiting area with a seat and 4 water closets which you could access for a penny. The attendant could supply towels and there were electric heaters and looking glasses.

However, the stairs down into the conveniences were tricky to negotiate with tight twists and turns – prams would not have been able to get down. The charge for use would have put some patrons off as well.

DCC Archives, City Engineers 14/2/2b

During the 1920’s various women’s committees and groups lobbied the Dunedin City Council for a rest room and creche to be supplied in the city.  At the forefront was the Women’s Restroom Committee but others included Women’s Advisory Committee, Trained Nurses Association, National Council of Women, and the Ladies Citizens Committee.

Rest Room and Creche, Otago Daily Times,17 June 1926, Issue 19818
Letter written from National Council of Women supporting the Dunedin Women’s Restroom Committee to supply a restroom in Dunedin, DCC Archives, TC33 Series, 1925 W/2/1


The first restroom was organised by the Women’s Restroom and Creche Committee for the 1925-26 New Zealand & South Seas Exhibition held in Dunedin. The restroom was placed near the fun park section and provided a welcome space for women and children while visiting the Exhibition. When the Exhibition was dismantled in 1926 the Women’s Committee donated the restroom to the City and it was placed in the Botanic Gardens.

DCC Archives, NZSS Series, The Fun Factory, New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition Souvenir Booklet, Page 110
More Rest Rooms Needed in the City, Evening Star newspaper, 21 April 1926, Issue 19229

Two further rest rooms were established in the main street of Dunedin in the late 1920’s – one in Princes Street and one in George Street.  A 1930 report outlined the services they provided.

DCC Archives, TC33 Series, 1930 GEN C/2, 7 May 1930

All these services were paid for and run by the Women’s Restroom Committee who also paid attendants wages, supplied uniforms for them and provided all the furniture in them. Dunedin City Council funded them annually and assisted in securing sites. The Council thanked the Committee for their valuable services in the interests of the comfort, health and convenience of women and children in Council Annual Reports. They also consulted the Ladies Advisory Committee when discussing further women’s conveniences across the city.

The new Women’s Rest Room in the Athenaeum Building (across the road from the women’s underground) in the Octagon was opened on the 29 August 1950. The central building on the ground floor was reported as a vast improvement on the old rest rooms in Princes Street. With this opening the Princes Street Rooms were closed and the only women’s underground convenience in the city closed.

1947 Calendar showing lower Octagon


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