Women's suffrage (New Zealand)

Where can I find information about women's suffrage in New Zealand?

Entry last updated: 22/05/17

Introduction

On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first self-governing country to enfranchise women or give women the right to vote. Voting rights for women or women’s suffrage began in the late 19th century. Kate Sheppard was the most prominent leader of the suffragist movement in New Zealand.

The right to vote

New Zealand’s pioneering suffragists were inspired by John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of equality, British feminists and the missionary efforts of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), an American missionary based organisation founded in 1885.

The websites below offer comprehensive coverage on the background and history of the movement as it unfolded in New Zealand and compares them with elections as held today.

NZHistory

This website would be the best place to get an overall understanding about the background, timeline and the suffrage petition.

  • Scroll down to the end of the page to Site Quicklinks.
  • Look for Political Milestones under the heading Politics & Government.
  • Find the link on Women and the vote.
  • Look for Contents on the page to understand how various aspects of this topic have been covered.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

It was not just women who had to fight for the right to vote. Miners, Māori men and women and a minority of European men were also refused voting rights.

  • Scroll down to Sections from the home page and select Government and Nation.
  • Then go to Political participation and look for voting rights to read about who else did not have voting rights in New Zealand.

Both NZHistory and Te Ara are excellent starting points for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we scroll down to the bottom of each site we can see that they belong to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

ELECTORAL COMMISSION - Te Kaitiaki Take Kōwhiri

This commission is an independent Crown entity responsible for the administration of parliamentary elections. It has information on how voting happens today.

  • History of the vote which can be found under Voting System is a page worth exploring. It captures the history of New Zealand elections from when they were first held in 1853, the right to vote, women and the vote, Māori and the vote and the role of media in elections today.
  • MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) is the voting system that New Zealand selected in 1993. You can find information about this system under the heading Voting System on the home page.
Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About us link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.

Ministry for Women - Te Minitatanga mō ngā Wāhine

This government website for women in New Zealand is about supporting women, their rights and development.

  • Go to About us.
  • Explore the links on Women’s suffrage and Māori women and the vote found under New Zealand Women.
Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

Petitioning the government

Kate Sheppard realised that the right to vote would give women the power to campaign their rights, address reforms on temperance (limiting sale and drinking of liquor) and welfare concerning children and women. Kate Sheppard was instrumental in obtaining the largest petition ever presented to Parliament in 1893 with nearly 32,000 signatures.

Te Ara Biographies

The Te Ara Biographies were originally published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, but are now included in Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Here you can find the biography of Kate Sheppard and her contribution to the suffrage movement.

The WTCU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) fronted by Kate Sheppard, the Tailoresses’ unions and other related groups played an important part in the suffrage movement. You can find information about these two organisations by typing the names of these organisations in the search box on the Te Ara homepage.

Tips: Not sure what a word means? Try using Google as a dictionary. The trick is to type the word define in front of the word you want to define, then click Search. For example, if you wanted to define the word temperance, your search would be ' define temperance ' . This searches for all the meanings on the web that define your word.

NZHistory

Use keyword terms ‘women’s petitions’ in the search box to find links to information and digitised images of the petitions sent to Parliament by Kate Sheppard and the suffragettes.

Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, e.g women's suffrage. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

Archives New Zealand - Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

Two of the surviving petitions presented to Parliament have been preserved at Archives New Zealand. The 1893 Petitions is on display in the Constitution Room at Archives New Zealand in Wellington.

  • To view this document online, click on Events and Exhibitions from the top of the page.
  • Find the link to Women's Suffrage.
Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

Victory in 1893

On 8 September 1893 the bill was passed in parliament. Governor Glasgow signed the new Electoral Act on 19 September 1893 and women in New Zealand went to the polls for the first time on 28 November of that year.

New Zealand Legislation - Te Tari Tohutohu Pāremata

This website is owned by the New Zealand Parliamentary Council Website, who are responsible for drafting most of New Zealand’s laws. You will find a copy of the Electoral Bill of 1983 on this site.

  • Scroll down the page to Useful links.
  • Select New Zealand Historical Bills 1854-2008.
  • Find year 1893 from the chart of dates.
  • Scroll down the page and open the link Electoral Bill 1893 (18-1).
Tips: A website’s address (URL) can give you a hint about how reliable it is. Look for addresses in the results that include .govt or .edu in the URL. These are quality sites from overseas government or educational organisations.

DigitalNZ

DigitalNZ is a portal for all digitised New Zealand content and culture and would be good place to look for any information related to the Electoral Bill 1893.

  • Type in the keywords ‘Electoral Act 1893’.
  • You will also find a range of resources related to this historic year, for eg newspaper articles, images etc.

This site provides an easy way of searching online resources from New Zealand libraries, museums, universities and government sites all at once, and has lots of primary sources. The results are grouped by the type of information, like images, videos, newspapers, articles and research papers.

New Zealand Geographic

This is one of the EPIC resources. EPIC is a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It’s put together especially for New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions like this. Use keywords 'Kate Sheppard' or 'women's suffrage' to find related articles on this topic.

Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.

Ongoing legacy

On 19 September 2013 New Zealand celebrated the 120th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage. A bust of Kate Sheppard can be found in the main foyer of Parliament House and white camellia shrubs have been planted in the grounds. Since then New Zealand has had female prime ministers, governor generals an members of parliament.

New Zealand Parliament - Pāremata Aotearoa

This government website has some valuable information on women's right to vote and the need for political and social equality.

  • Try using keywords like 'Suffrage Day'.
  • You will find links to the celebration of Suffrage Day in New Zealand and motions for equal rights for women.
Tips: The logo and 'About us' at the end of the page will tell you that this website belongs to the government of New Zealand. This website is about the New Zealand's Parliament and how laws are made.

Ministry for Women - Te Minitatanga mō ngā Wāhine

This Ministry was established by the Cabinet of the Labour Government in November 1984 to address the needs of New Zealand women.

  • Read About us to understand the main responsibilities of this department.
  • The link on Women's suffrage has references to Kate Sheppard, the leader of the suffragist movement in New Zealand and Elizabeth McCombs the first female Member of Parliament in New Zealand.

NZHistory

NZHistory is a product of the Research and Publishing Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. It has:

  • information on Helen Clark, the first elected female Prime Minister of New Zealand, and
  • an image of Dame Silvia Cartwright, the first female governor general of New Zealand.
Tips: Explore the related links or suggested keywords that you will find on a page of information on this website. These links will help expand your research on your topic.

National Library of New Zealand - Te Puna Mātauranga O Aotearoa

The National Library of New Zealand has print and digital collections which all New Zealanders can access. The library has recently opened a permanent exhibition called He Tohu. It is based on three constitutional documents that shaped New Zealand, one of which is the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition – Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine.

  • Click on the tab He Tohu found at the top of the page.
  • Scroll down the page to read the story of the 1893 Women's Suffrage Petition.
  • The other two documents on display are the The Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi.

This exhibition has been developed in partnership between Crown and Māori with advice from the Women's Suffrage Petition Advisory Group.

Books

There have been many books written about the suffragette movement in New Zealand - check out your local public or school library to see what they have.

Some recommended titles are:

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