Votes for women – 19 September 1893

19 September 1893 – women in New Zealand got the vote.
Kate Sheppard Memorial

Kate Sheppard Memorial

On 19 September 1993 this Christchurch landmark – the Kate Sheppard Memorial – was unveiled. Kia ora to all the women who fought so hard for us to get the vote. Here are the women celebrated on the Memorial:

Photo of Helen Nicol's memorial
Helen Nicol
who pioneered the women’s franchise campaign in Dunedin.
Photo of Kate Sheppard's memorial
Kate Sheppard of Christchurch
, the leader of the suffrage campaign.

Photo of Ada Well's memorial
Ada Wells
of Christchurch who campaigned vigorously for equal educational opportunities for girls and women.

Photo of Harriet Morison's memorial
Harriet Morison
of Dunedin, vice president of the Tailoresses’ Union and a powerful advocate for working women.

Photo of Meri Te Tai Mangakahia's memorial
Meri Te Tai Mangakahia of Taitokerau who requested the vote for women from the Kotahitanga Māori Parliament.

Photo of Amey Daldy's memorial
Amey Daldy, a foundation member of the Auckland WCTU and president of the Auckland Franchise League.

Public notice for a meeting on the present and outlook of woman's suffrage to be held at the Oddfellows Hall, Lichfield Street, Chch.  [20 Oct. 1892]
Public notice for a meeting on the present and outlook of woman’s suffrage to be held at the Oddfellows Hall, Lichfield Street, Chch. 20 Oct. 1892
Photot of Some of the first women voters entering the Tuam Street hall
Some of the first women voters entering the Tuam Street hall. November 1893.

Another group of leaders are Christchurch’s own Women in the Council Chamber and we have brief political audio biographies on Ada Wells, Elizabeth McCombs, the famed Mabel Howard as well as more recent councillors.

Our collection of Unsung heroines highlights local identities. These women were characters in all senses of the word. Bella Button – famed for her horseriding prowess – trained cats to jump like horses. Lizzie Coker, of Coker’s Hotel fame, was remembered as a ‘fantastic creature in elaborate wigs and huge fur coats’.

Other things to explore:

  • A brief diary written on board the Tintern Abbey en route from Gravesend to Christchurch, December 1874 – May 1875 by Mary Anne McCrystal, 1849-1929.
  • Ngaio Marsh – one of Canterbury’s most famous authors.
  • Elsie Locke – one of our Canterbury Heroes, her plaque reads ‘Political, social and local community activist, well-loved historian and writer, determined and doughty fighter for the rights of the under-dog, active to the end’.

Our suffrage related stuff

More on votes for women

What did our local newspaper The Press report about women getting the right to vote on 19 September 1893?
Now that Papers Past has The Press digitised for our pleasure we can find out!

It will be an evil day for New Zealand if the female agitators are alone to vote. Why, when I see some of these voluable persons, whom I have the pleasure of knowing, I involuntarily bolt into the nearest shop for safety. What will happen to the State if these join their votes with the hysterical male women who desire to control this demented colony, I tremble to depict.

Letter to the editor, Volume L, Issue 8591, 19 September 1893

20 September 1893 copy of The Press

Women’s Franchise: 20 September 1893. Volume L, Issue 8592

It was passed by a House, the majority of whose members are in their hearts opposed to the change. It has been forced upon the colony, the majority of the electors in which are opposed to the revolution. It has, finally, been forced upon the women of New Zealand, although the majority of them do not want the franchise, and have made no claims to obtain the privilege.

A telegram from Premier Richard Seddon to Kate Sheppard and the Executive of the W.C.T.U.:

Electoral Bill assented to by his Excellency the Governor at quarter to twelve. “I trust now that all doubts as to the sincerity of the Government in this very important matter has been effectually resolved”.

What Would Kate Think?

September 19 is celebrated as Women’s Suffrage Day. On that date in 1893 the new Electoral Act Find at Christchurch City Librariesgiving women in New Zealand the vote was passed into law. Leader of the suffrage fight was Kate Sheppard, a redoubtable Christchurch resident who threw her energies into many related causes including temperance (alcohol reform) and dress reform for women.

What would she make of current generations of women who may be wearing revealing clothing, binge drinking and pursuing careers once the preserve of men? Are they liberated and empowered? Do they really have freedom of choice?  I think Kate would have some pretty staunch opinions.

Australian writer Emily Maguire was due at the Christchurch Writer’s Festival to talk with Marilyn Waring in a session entitled Your skirt’s too short: women in the 21st century.  This is also the title of her latest book which is adapted for teenage readers from her 2008 book Princesses & pornstars : sex, power, identity. Both examine the challenges for women in an age of celebrity worship, mainstream porn and an unhealthy focus on appearance.