Happy Suffrage Day New Zealand -and thanks to Kate

Happy 124th anniversary to New Zealand!

Annual celebrations in Christchurch 19th Sept

It’s 124 years since our wonderful New Zealand suffragists, won us the ability to vote in our general Parliamentary elections.

Some, (usually landowners) but certainly not all, women had been able to vote in various non-Parliamentary elections. Female ratepayers, that is landowners, had voted in local body elections from 1875; two years later they could stand for school committees, then in 1893, after years of campaigning, New Zealand women, whether landowners or not, became eligible to vote in the national, NZ-wide, Parliamentary elections.

Our suffragists certainly led the way, with the USA, in the face of most states allowing voting, it granted the same right to their women in 1920 (19th amendment) then in 1928 all women in Britain were able to vote before that, from 1918, only female property owners over 30 years old had been able to vote.

Given our proud and world leading history I get upset at the lack of knowledge by a wide swathe of New Zealanders, including the media, who often use the term ‘suffragette’ to refer to our suffragists. Here is an example from last week … shame on Stuff.co.nz

Did you know the term ‘suffragettes’ was coined about 15 years after New Zealand women were voting so New Zealand women were never suffragettes?

The term was first used in a British newspaper as a derogatory word but eventually was captured by the women of the USA and UK, and should never be used in relation to Kate Shepherd and our women ancestors, including my great-grandmother Elizabeth Rowe.

One of the great things about New Zealand’s 1893 Electoral Bill was that Māori women, who had fought for and been given the vote too. It was not ‘just’ women with land, but sadly, Chinese women, in fact all Chinese, did not get the vote in New Zealand until the early 1950s!

Suffrage day (19th November) is also called White Camellia day, as women who supported enfranchisement wore a white camellia, and in Christchurch women wear the flowers and lay them at the wonderful memorial in Christchurch – where our Kate was from.

The national memorial was unveiled in 1993 – the 100-year anniversary – and at the same time a new white camellia variety was created and named ‘Kate Sheppard’.  When in Christchurch, take a walk along the Avon, in the Botanic Gardens along the camellia walk and remember with gratitude the women who worked so hard to get us the vote.  That same year, 1993, a women’s program, Women on Air, began on Plains FM, and although it was scheduled for one year, it was so  successful it continued, for some fifteen years: many thanks to Ruth Todd and Morin Rout for all their hard work.

Kate’s home in  Riccarton/Ilam Christchurch

Last week I attended a performance of the rock musical “That Bloody Woman’ at the Wellington Opera house – the best stage performance I’ve seen in years. Kate would have been thrilled!

Don’t waste the courage and strength of those brave 19th century women – always vote

For more about New Zealand and the three documents, our taonga, or national treasures, the signatures that shaped our country,  visit the free, permanent exhibition He Tohu at the National Library, 70 Molesworth Street, central Wellington. (open 6 days week)

 

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