Jennifer Shipley, also known as “Jenny,” was New Zealand’s first female Prime Minister, serving from December 8, 1997, to December 5, 1999, after launching a deliberately orchestrated coup against Jim Bolger. Shipley was born in Gore, New Zealand, on February 4, 1952. She was a primary school teacher after graduating from Christchurch Teachers’ College in 1972.
She became a member of the National Party in 1975 and was elected to Parliament in 1987. She served as Minister of Social Services from 1990 to 1993 and Minister of Women’s Affairs from 1990 to 1996. Shipley became Minister of State Utilities, Transportation, and State-Owned Enterprises in 1996.
In 1997, discontent with Bolger’s presidency rose as a result of controversial policies and accusations of corruption, and Shipley launched a movement to unseat him. Bolger stood down as Prime Minister and Party Leader in November 1997 rather than risk a confidence vote. On December 8, 1997, Shipley was sworn in.
She worked to reduce the national debt, simplify the tax code, and reduce social programmes since taking office. As the majority government fell apart in August 1998, Shipley called for a vote of confidence to demonstrate that her leadership already had the trust of the legislature. The ballot, that was the first of its kind in New Zealand, was held in September 1998, and Shipley prevailed by a razor-thin margin. She faced a similar vote next year, but was able to prevent being suspended from office once again. Helen Clark of the Labour Party beat her in the 1999 elections.
Shipley remained the National Party’s leader until 2001, when she was succeeded by Bill English. She left politics the next year, but she is still involved in nongovernmental organizations including the Council of Women World Leaders and the Club of Madrid.