Sunday, 19 September 2010

Suffrage Day!

Cross posted

On this day, 117 years ago, women in the New Zealand got the right to vote. On 19 September, 1893, the Governor, Lord Glasgow, signed the Electoral Act giving all New Zealand women the right to vote. New Zealand was one of the earliest self-governing territories in the world to enfranchise women, and the earliest nation to do so. It's a proud moment in our history. Alas, it took another 26 years before women were entitled to stand for Parliament, and another 14 years after that before Elizabeth McCombs became the first woman to win a seat.

The suffragists fought a long battle to gain the vote, presenting three massive petitions to Parliament. The third and final petition had 32,000 signatures on it. The petition is on display in the National Archives in Wellington, and you can walk in there and take a look, just like that.

When I looked at the 1893 suffrage petition, what struck me was the street addresses of the people who had signed it. There was signature after signature from the same street. It is a record of a woman, or perhaps a man, going from door to door, up and down the streets, knocking and asking for signatures.

There's a lovely story about one signature on the petition. It comes from Mrs Perryman's account of the suffrage campaign and voting for the first time on the site.

It meant hard work to collect those signatures, and we met many women who told us quite emphatically they wanted nothing to do with politics. Mrs T. E. Taylor, wife of a very prominent independent member [of Parliament], used to tell a good tale about one of these reluctant women. The lady firmly declined to sign the petition, and firmly shut the door in Mrs Taylor's face. But before Mrs Taylor could reach the front gate she was called back. 'Yes', said the lady, 'I will sign your petition, just to vote against that man Tommy Taylor'.

If you are in Wellington, do take a moment to have a look. The Archives are at 10 Mulgrave Street, just across the road from the Thistle, where Te Rauparaha is said to have had a drink from time to time, and one block over from Parliament.


Anonymous said...

This is awesome (but it's sad how this day would have gone totally unnoticed by me but-for the Hand Mirror blog). The vote was extended to Maori women at this time as well as European women (I wonder when Maori men got the right to vote?)

All of my ancestors/family were still in Britain in 1893 so my female ancestors didn't get the right to vote until a bit later (my great-grandmother conveniently turned 21 in 1928, the year the vote was extended to women as well as men aged over 21).

As a Law student, I'm also interested in when jury service became compulsory for both men & women. In 1942 women were allowed to serve on juries for the first time (on a voluntary basis). From about 1959-1963 women launched a big campaign and petitioned the government for this to be changed... however it wasn't until 1976 that jury service became compulsory for both women and men (until then, women were allowed to claim "automatic exemption" from jury service). Also interesting is that, until 1965, Maori were not allowed to serve on juries where the accused was non-Maori.


Sam said...

and Sandra Grey and Ana Gilling of Women for MMP have released a report today, which discusses both the better representation and specific policy wins for women since MMP was introduced. Have a read here:

AnneE said...

Isn't it amazing - and depressing - that the anniversary of this impressive achievement gets no official recognition? When it did get noticed, in 1993, there was constant sniping and carping - we weren't "really" first (we were the first nation state), the relatively small amount of government funding for the 100th anniversary was an outrageous waste of money, etc etc. Still, women and men of goodwill all over the country did manage to put on hundreds of celebratory events. Come 2010, and it gets absolutely no public notice whatsoever.

dad4justice said...

Yawn, yawn, who the hell gives a toss these days.