This month, New Zealand women celebrate 125 years of winning the right to vote. Today, we all take a visit to the ballot box for granted once we turn 18 but, it hasn’t always been that way.
On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first self-governing country to grant women the vote and New Zealand women voted for the first time in a general election later that year on 28 November 1893. In most other democracies – including Britain and the United States – women did not get that right until after the First World War.
This hard fought for win didn’t come easily and was the result of over twenty years of effort by suffrage campaigners, with Kate Sheppard at the lead.
Kate Sheppard (nee Malcolm) was born in Liverpool in 1847 and migrated to Christchurch in her early twenties. In 1871 she married merchant Walter Sheppard and in 1885 she joined the WCTU, which advocated women’s suffrage as a means to fight for liquor prohibition.
Speaking for a new generation, she argued, ‘We are tired of having a “sphere” doled out to us, and of being told that anything outside that sphere is “unwomanly”. Sheppard travelled the country in her quest, writing to newspapers, holding public meetings and lobbying members of Parliament.
In 1891, 1892 and 1893 Suffrage campaigners drafted a series of petitions calling on Parliament to grant the vote to women. The Suffragettes had gathered more than 32000 signatures from women across the country.
The opposition she faced was strong with Wellington resident Henry Wright writing that, women were ‘recommended to go home, look after their children, cook their husbands’ dinners, empty the slops, and generally attend to the domestic affairs for which Nature designed them’; He also said that women should give up ‘meddling in masculine concerns of which they are profoundly ignorant’. Other opponents of women voting suggested that female voters might be harassed in the polling booths but in fact the 1893 election was apparently the ‘best-conducted and most orderly’ ever held.
Mercy women laid the groundwork with the education of young women through secondary education. They established and operated health care facilities at a time when these facilities were mainly run by men
Since winning the right to vote, women have gone on in New Zealand to be elected Prime Minister and appointed Governor General and Chief Justice. And, this year our female Prime Minister had a baby while in office. We truly have come a long way, and this year is an appropriate time to acknowledge, and recognise the women who paved the way for our future. This is a good time for us to remember to treasure and use our freedom wisely. We must never take it for granted and we must honour those that fought for our right to vote. Its also a great reminder to fight hard for our beliefs and freedoms!
If you want to find out about commemorative events this year the best place to start is the Ministry for Women website http://women.govt.nz/about/new-zealand-women/history/suffrage-125/events-celebrations
We would also love to hear about any events you have planned or take part in. Send your story and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org