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 elections.org.nz 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.