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Women's Suffrage

For more information on Women's suffrage, please follow the links at the end of this article. We strongly recommend you read Celebrating Women's Suffrage 106 Years On.

New Zealand women were given the right to vote in parliamentary elections in September, 1893. Although women had voted in Wyoming since 1869 and in Utah since 1870, New Zealand was the first nation state in the world to allow women to vote.

Kate Sheppard
Photograph courtesy of The Alexander Turnbull Library Wellington, New Zealand.
The issue of women's suffrage was forced into prominence in New Zealand by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, led by Kate Sheppard. Sheppard (born in 1848) was one of the first female cyclists and a firm believer in equality of status in marriage. As head of the Temperance Union she proved to be a persistent and determined campaigner for women's political emancipation. Sheppard's efforts were aided by the politician Sir John Hall, who advocated feminist views in parliament, and provided support and astute advice to the Temperance Union.

The Temperance movement used articles published in the press, pamphlets, public meetings, and petitions to publicise their cause.

The following excerpt appeared in "Ten Reasons Why the Women of N.Z Should Vote", a pamphlet distributed in Christchurch in 1888:

"Because it has not yet been proved that the intelligence of women is only equal to that of children, nor that their intelligence is on a par with that of lunatics or criminals."

It is ironic that the women's suffrage legislature was eventually passed by Richard Seddon's Liberal government since Seddon had long been an adversary of the Women's Temperance Union. The vote in council went in favour of the bill (20 votes to 18)only after two members were incensed by Seddon's attempt to manipulate the decision of some voters. As the New Zealand Herald commented at the time, "...it is hardly too much to say that the enfranchisement of women has been accomplished by her enemies".

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