I’ve been thinking about women and politics recently – for two reasons. One, Hillary Clinton is currently campaigning and two, New Zealand has elections this year. Our current prime minister is Helen Clark. Ms. Clark is New Zealand’s second female prime minister.
New Zealand’s ten-dollar note bears a picture of Kate Sheppard. To be honest, I don’t ever remember learning about her in history at school, and I actually liked history so I’m sure I didn’t forget. But Kate Sheppard is an important New Zealand figure and her efforts were far reaching.
Kate Sheppard was the driving force behind obtaining the vote for women in New Zealand. For a little country we’re very progressive. We were the first country in the world to award women the legal right to vote. Before 1893 only men over the age of 21 could vote.
Kate Sheppard was born in Liverpool, England and came to New Zealand in 1869 with her mother and other family members. When she was 24 years old she married Walter Allen Sheppard, a storekeeper in Christchurch.
In 1885 she joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. (An organisation of women formed to work towards moderation or restraint in things, especially drinking alcohol.) Kate became the leader of the fight to win the right for women to vote in elections. She organised petitions to Parliament asking for the right to vote for women and persuaded Sir John Hall, a leading member of Parliament, to support them. She wrote a pamphlet called Ten reasons why the women of New Zealand should vote to support the campaign. The suffrage bills were defeated in Parliament in 1888, 1891 and 1892, but despite this Kate continued the campaign for the vote. She used public meetings and letters to the newspapers to gather support, and her last petition to Parliament had nearly 32, 000 signatures on it.
Finally, on 19 September 1893 women were finally given the right to vote in elections. When the next general election was held ten weeks later, 65% of New Zealand women over 21 voted. New Zealand had become the first country in which all women had the right to vote.
Kate Sheppard later travelled overseas to England and America to help the campaigns there. She died in July 1934.
Source: Christchurch City Library
I think Kate Sheppard was an amazing woman. She believed women should take part in society and politics, rather than stay in the home and she believed that woman could not make any of the changes needed in society without first winning the right to vote.
So next time there’s an election, no matter how big or small, think of Kate Sheppard and her friends who helped women world-wide obtain the right to vote. Exercise your right. Vote and have your say.