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 currently independent, New Zealand was the first to give women the vote in modern times.[1]

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.[2]

History[edit]

The struggle for women's suffrage[edit]

Tribute to the Suffragettes memorial in Christchurch adjacent to Our City. The figures shown from left to right are Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, Amey Daldy, Kate Sheppard, Ada Wells, Harriet Morison, and Helen Nicol.

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.[citation needed]

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; in 1891 Walter Carncross moved an amendment that was intended to make the bill fail in the Legislative Council. His amendment was for women to become eligible to be voted into the House of Representatives. This infuriated the suffragette Catherine Fulton, who organised a protest at the 1893 election.[3]

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. A copy of the list of signatories to the main suffrage petition in 1893 is available to the public on the NZ History website. The Legislative Council (upper house) was divided on the issue, and Premier Richard Seddon hoped to stop the bill in the upper house, promising the 'brewing party' in the lower house that three more of the new councillors in the upper house would vote against it.[4]

Seddon found that one more vote was needed to defeat the measure in the upper house. A new Liberal Party councillor Thomas Kelly had left himself paired in favour of the measure, but Seddon obtained his consent by wire to change his vote. Seddon's manipulation incensed two other councillors William Hunter Reynolds and Edward Cephas John Stevens, so they changed sides and voted for the bill, allowing it to pass by 20 votes to 18. The two opposition councillors had been opposed to woman's suffrage without the 'electoral rights' safeguard of postal voting; seen as necessary to allow all women in isolated rural areas to vote, although seen by the Liberals as making the vote open to manipulation by husbands or employers.[5]

Both the Liberal government and the opposition subsequently claimed credit for the enfranchisement of women, and sought women's newly acquired votes on these grounds.[6]

Further advances in women's political rights[edit]

In 1893, Elizabeth Yates became the first woman in the British Empire to become mayor, though she held the post in Onehunga, a city now part of Auckland, only for about a year.

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 Louisa Burrell of Christchurch, Mrs Ethel Marion Gould of Auckland and Mrs 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.[7]

See also[edit]

Portrait of an unknown suffragette, Charles Hemus Studio Auckland, circa 1880. The sitter wears a white camellia and has cut off her hair, both symbolic of support for advancing women's rights.

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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. 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).
  2. ^ Mogford, Janice C. "Yates, Elizabeth 1840–1848?–1918". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  3. ^ Entwisle, Rosemary. "Fulton, Catherine Henrietta Elliot – Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Women's Suffrage, Archives New Zealand Info Sheet 4, March 2011
  5. ^ Grimshaw, pp 70–71, 92.
  6. ^ Atkinson, pp 84–94, 96.
  7. ^ New Zealand Honours: Distinctive NZ Honours Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • Lovell-Smith, Margaret, ed. The Woman Question: Writings by the Women Who Won the Vote (Auckland: New Women’s Press, 1992)

External links[edit]