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Jane Runciman was born in County Waterford in Munster, Ireland, in 1873, the daughter of an accountant. The family arrived in Dunedin in 1884.

After leaving school, Jane worked in the clothing trade, becoming secretary of the Dunedin Tailoresses' Union in 1906 and was later of the New Zealand Federated Tailoresses' and Other Trade Employees' Union. She had, however, what has been described as a rather unusual approach: she never called any meetings and she refused to allow 'her girls' to travel with the male clothing workers when the unions went to negotiate awards.

In 1946, the Dunedin Tailoresses' Union and the Male Clothing Workers' Union agreed to merge - a move Runciman opposed, walking out of the meeting and, it is suspected, destroying her union's records.

Jane Runciman was active in many other Dunedin organisations and was one of New Zealand's first female Justices of the Peace.

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