[ POSTER ]
New Zealand – the first country in the world to give women the vote
Kate Sheppard was born Catherine Wilson Malcolm in Liverpool, England on 10 March, 1847. She spent her early years in London, Nairn (Scotland) and Dublin. She was an extremely gifted child, fortunate enough to receive an excellent education – her later writings reflect an extensive knowledge of the sciences, arts and the law.
After her father’s death in 1862, Kate’s mother moved the family to New Zealand in February, 1869. They settled in Christchurch and in 1871 Kate married Christchurch merchant, storekeeper and city councillor, Walter Allen Sheppard. The couple had one son Douglas, born in 1880.
In 1885 Sheppard became a founding member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The Temperance Union quickly realised that it was vital for women to have the right to vote and be represented in Parliament in order to improve the welfare of women and children.
The Union took the first of three major petitions to Parliament in 1891. It was signed by more than 9,000 women. The second petition in 1892 was signed by more than 19,000 women.
The third and final petition in 1893 was signed by almost 32,000 women, nearly a third of the adult female population at the time. It was the largest petition that had ever been presented to Parliament.
Finally on 19 September 1893, the Electoral Act was passed and Kate Sheppard received a telegram from her previous political enemy, Premier Richard Seddon, conceding victory to the women.
Kate took her message worldwide and continued to fight for women’s suffrage. Ill health brought her back to New Zealand in 1904. She died at her home at Riccarton, Christchurch, on 13 July 1934, and was buried in Addington cemetery with her mother, a brother and a sister.
The Christchurch Times reported her death in simple appreciation:
A great woman has gone, whose name will remain an inspiration to the daughters of New Zealand while our history endures
– Kate Sheppard
Kate Sheppard’s legacy
- Women in New Zealand were given the right to vote and New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant universal adult suffrage to men and women equally.
- Sheppard was interested in a broad range of issues affecting women: the advantages of contraception, the right to divorce, equal rights to guardianship of children and clothing that did not crush internal organs. She argued for girls to have as much chance as boys did to run and play freely.
- Would voting rights challenge the husband’s manliness? Would reform lead to unthinkable role reversals where the wife brought home the bacon and the husband wore the apron? Would giving women the vote mean the end of the sale of alcoholic beverages?
- In 1919 women were granted the right to stand for Parliament, and in 1934, just before her death Sheppard had the satisfaction of seeing the first woman MP enter Parliament.
- Women’s Christian Temperance Union – An organisation of women formed to work towards moderation or restraint in things, especially drinking alcohol. Under Kate Sheppard this group worked to make life better for families.