Women's suffrage in New Zealand
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Women's suffrage in New Zealand was an important political issue in the late 19th century. Of countries presently independent, New Zealand was the first to give women the vote in modern times.
The Electoral Bill granting women the franchise was given Royal Assent by Governor Lord Glasgow on 19 September 1893, and women voted for the first time in the election held on 28 November 1893 (elections for the Māori electorates were held on 20 December). In 1893, Elizabeth Yates also became Mayor of Onehunga, the first time such a post had been held by a female anywhere in the British Empire.
Women's suffrage was granted after about two decades of campaigning by women such as Kate Sheppard and Mary Ann Müller and organisations such as the New Zealand branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union led by Anne Ward. They felt that female voting would increase the morality of politics; their opponents argued that politics was outside women's 'natural sphere' of the home and family. Suffrage advocates countered that allowing women to vote would encourage policies which protected and nurtured families.
From 1887, various attempts were made to pass bills enabling female suffrage, the first one by Julius Vogel, 8th premier of New Zealand. Each bill came close to passing but none succeeded until a government strategy to foil the 1893 bill backfired. By 1893 there was considerable popular support for women's suffrage, including the 1893 Women's Suffrage Petition and the Electoral Bill passed through the Lower House with a large majority.
The Legislative Council (upper house) was divided on the issue, but when Premier Richard Seddon ordered a Liberal Party councillor to change his vote, two other councillors were so annoyed by Seddon's interference that they changed sides and voted for the bill, allowing it to pass by 20 votes to 18. Seddon had hoped to stop the bill in the upper house.
Women were not eligible to be elected to the House of Representatives until 1919 though, when three women, including Ellen Melville stood. Elizabeth McCombs was the first woman to win an election (to the Lyttelton seat held by her late husband, via widow's succession) in the 1933 by-election, followed by Catherine Stewart (1938), Mary Dreaver (1941), Mary Grigg (1942) and Mabel Howard (1943). Melville stood for the Reform Party and Grigg for the National Party, while Stewart, Dreaver and Howard were all Labour Party. The first Maori woman MP was Iriaka Ratana in 1949; she also succeeded to the seat held by her late husband.
Women were not eligible to be appointed to the New Zealand Legislative Council (the Upper House of Parliament) until 1941. The first two women (Mary Dreaver and Mary Patricia Anderson) were appointed in 1946 by the Labour Government. In 1950 the "suicide squad" appointed by the National Government to abolish the Legislative Council included three women: Mrs Cora Burrell of Christchurch, Mrs Ethel Gould of Auckland and Agnes Louisa Weston of Wellington.
In 1989 Helen Clark became the first female Deputy Prime Minister. In 1997, the then-current Prime Minister Jim Bolger lost the support of the National Party and was replaced by Jenny Shipley, making her the first female Prime Minister of New Zealand. In 1999, Clark became the second female Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the first woman to gain the position at an election.
The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993 was authorised by the Queen by Royal Warrant dated 1 July 1993, and was awarded to 546 selected persons in recognition of their contribution to the rights of women in New Zealand or to women's issues in New Zealand or both.
See also 
- Category:New Zealand suffragists
- Women's suffrage
- History of voting in New Zealand
- Henry Smith Fish (opponent)
- List of suffragists and suffragettes
- Timeline of women's suffrage
- Before the 18th century the franchise in European countries was restricted by property but not by gender. Antonia Fraser The Weaker Vessel: Woman's Lot in Seventeenth-century England", London, UK: 1984. The Corsican Republic of 1755 gave women universal suffrage, but was annexed by France in 1769. (Carrington, Dorothy, "The Corsican Constitution of Pasquale Paoli (1755–1769)," The English Historical Review, Vol 88, No 348 (July 1973), pp 481–503). Pitcairn Island gave women universal suffrage in 1838, but was not a self-governing country; nor was the Isle of Man which enfranchised female ratepayers in 1881, or the Cook Islands, which passed a women's suffrage bill days after New Zealand but held their election over a month earlier. Various American states and territories also enfranchised women before 1893. (Atkinson, Neill (2003), Adventures in Democracy: A History of the Vote in New Zealand, pp 280–1). Franceville gave both native and European women the vote when it declared independence in 1889, but it came under French and British colonial rule soon after. ("Wee, Small Republics: A Few Examples of Popular Government," Hawaiian Gazette, 1 Nov 1895, p1).
- Mogford, Janice C. "Yates, Elizabeth 1840–1848?–1918". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
- Women's Suffrage, Archives New Zealand Info Sheet 4, March 2011
- Atkinson, pp 84–94, 96.
- New Zealand Honours: Distinctive NZ Honours Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Further reading 
- Dalziel, Raewynn. "Presenting the Enfranchisement of New Zealand Women Abroad" in Caroline Daley, and Melanie Nolan, eds. Suffrage and Beyond: International Feminist Perspectives (New York University Press, 1994) 42–64.
- Grimshaw, Patricia. Women's Suffrage in New Zealand (1988), the standard scholarly study
- Grimshaw, Patricia. "Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand Revisited: Writing from the Margins," Caroline Daley, and Melanie Nolan, eds. Suffrage and Beyond: International Feminist Perspectives (New York University Press, 1994) pp 25–41.
- Markoff, John. "Margins, Centers, and Democracy: The Paradigmatic History of Women's Suffrage," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society (2003) 29#1 pp 85–116. compares NZ with Cook Islands & Finland in JSTOR
- Ramirez, Francisco O., Yasemin Soysal, and Suzanne Shanahan. "The Changing Logic of Political Citizenship: Cross-National Acquisition of Women’s Suffrage Rights, 1890 to 1990," American Sociological Review (1997) 62#5 pp 735–45. in JSTOR
Primary sources 
- Lovell-Smith, Margaret, ed. The Woman Question: Writings by the Women Who Won the Vote (Auckland: New Women’s Press, 1992)
- Cartoons and article on women's suffrage in New Zealand
- Female MPs 1933–2002 (graph from above website)
- Women in Parliament 1933–2005 on elections website