Today marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, which made our small island the first self-governing nation to grant women the right to vote.
It wasn’t a smooth road, however, and although not as long or violent as other campaigns for the vote in the UK and US years later, Kiwi women faced their share of opposition.
A strong push for the vote began in the late 1870s when electoral bills were being put forward to Parliament which had clauses saying it gave women the right to vote, not just men.
But it was much earlier that a handful of women began advocating for voting rights for women.
“It was just a few maverick voices at that point, but it was being discussed,” says Victoria University's Professor Charlotte Macdonald.
The movement picked up steam when the Women’s Christian Temperance formed nationwide in New Zealand.
That’s when women started saying, “we want to change the politics in the places that we live”, says Professor Macdonald.
It wasn’t just for political equality, but for moral reform to protect women, she says.
“They were saying ‘we need to organise to get the vote because without that no matter what we do we’re just going to get cast aside’.”
From there, women began a much larger campaign which involved petitioning, public meetings, writing letters to the editor and working with sympathetic MPs.
A lot of their efforts failed, but the women tirelessly continued to work for equality in voting rights.
From 1886 to 1892, a series of petitions were presented to Parliament.
“Petitioning was the only way in which women, and people outside Parliament, could have their voice heard and the British suffrage campaign was petitioning at the same time so it’s a well-known technique,” says Otago University's Professor Barbara Brookes.
“It was also a really important educationally technique because if you’re going to sign a petition people usually explain to you what it’s about.”
Nearly 32,000 signatures were obtained from women across the country including many Māori women.
It was on September 19, 1893, following another petition and electoral bill passed in the House when Governor Lord Glasgow signed the bill into law and women granted the right to vote.
When election day finally comes in November 28, 1893, 82 per cent of women over the age of 21 turn out to vote.
This changed the course of women’s lives in New Zealand leading to many policy changes for women, female MP being elected to Parliament 40 years later and eventually three female prime ministers.