Women's suffrage (New Zealand)

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

Image: Kate Sheppard Memorial. FZ200 by Bernard Spragg. NZ on Flickr

Entry last updated: 01/04/20

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

NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable. It gives a great overall understanding about Women's right to vote and includes information about the suffrage petition.

  • Select the section called Politics and Government.
  • Look under Political milestones to find the link on Women and the vote.
  • Look for Contents on the page to discover different aspects of this topic.
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.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara is another excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. It has information about women's suffrage and groups such as The WCTU and the Tailoresses’ unions.

To find information about women's right to vote:

  • Scroll down to Sections from the home page and select Government and Nation.
  • Then go to Political participation and select voting rights.
  • Choose the section Votes for women.

To find information about different organisations:

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, eg 'women's suffrage'. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

Topic Explorer

Topic Explorer is an online tool from the National Library of New Zealand. It contains a wide range of quality resources on a variety of topics, in a variety of formats.

Tips: Make sure you explore 'Related topics' found in the column to the right to know what else connects to this topic.

Ministry for Women - Te Minitatanga mō ngā Wāhine

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

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 for 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.

NZHistory

NZHistory also has information about the Women's suffrage petition.

  • Enter the keywords ‘suffrage petition’ in the search box.
  • Select the link for About the suffrage petition.
  • If you click on the previous page on this article you will find a searchable database of the petition.
  • Selecting more information beside a result will give you more information about the person who signed.

Archives New Zealand - Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

Archives New Zealand protects, preserves, and makes sure that the public has access to millions of official records, information, documents and data from the 19th century onwards.

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.

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB)

DNZB is part of Te Ara — The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. It has more than 3,000 biographies of famous New Zealanders who are no longer alive. This site also includes around 500 biographies that are in te reo Māori.

  • To find a biography, enter a name into the search bar eg Kate Sheppard.

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

New Zealand Geographic is part of EPIC which 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.

The New Zealand History Collection (BWB)

The New Zealand History Collection is also a part of the EPIC databases. You will find here a collection of ebooks on New Zealand history and biography titles from Bridget Williams Books.

  • Read the ebooks:
    • 'The Vote, the Pill and the Demon Drink: A History of Feminist Writing in New Zealand, 1869–1993'. This book traces the history of the fight for women's rights in New Zealand, and
    • 'The Women's Suffrage Petition, 1893' — to read about the story, petition and signatories.
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 6 pm 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.

  • Search 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.

NZHistory

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

  • Search for 'Suffrage 125.'
  • Select the box suffrage 125.
  • This will lead to a number of events, articles, and biographies related to the ongoing legacy since 1893.
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 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 He Tohu from the front 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.
Tips: This exhibition has been developed in partnership between Crown and Māori with advice from the Women's Suffrage Petition Advisory Group.

Radio New Zealand (RNZ)

RNZ is New Zealand's independent public radio service. It provides trusted news, podcasts and interviews on a variety of current affairs.

  • Go to the tab at the top of the page called Topics.
  • Select the topic called Collections.
  • Collections are listed in alphabetical order.
  • Find the collection called Women, The Vote and Equality to listen to a variety of historical interviews, features and documentaries on this topic.
Tips: Websites that have .com or .co 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 company’s mission and values are.

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:

SCIS no: 1832060

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