By Frances Husband, Associate Curator Human History
Cantabrian Kate Sheppard was influential in the local suffrage movement which resulted in New Zealand women gaining the right to vote in 1893. New Zealand was the first self-governing country in the world to achieve this for parliamentary elections. She is featured on New Zealand's $10 note.
Kate Sheppard is the most well-known of the suffragists and administered a monster petition of almost 32,000 signatures, which was presented to Parliament in 1893.
Women’s suffrage was promoted by various individual men and women in the 1870s, and petitions were also presented in 1891 and in 1892. The involvement of Women’s Franchise Leagues in the 1890s and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the 1880s gave the movement structure. The WCTU quickly realised that their efforts to ban alcohol and improve the welfare of women and children would be more effective if women had the right to vote and representation in parliament.
Kate Sheppard was one of the founding members of the New Zealand WCTU and as the franchise superintendent and administrator for the suffrage petitions, she became a leading figure. She was also elected as President to the National Council of Women in 1896, the year that it was founded.
Although women were granted the right to vote in 1893, they were not able to serve in Parliament until 1919. Just a year before Kate Sheppard died in July 1934, Elizabeth McCombs became New Zealand's first woman MP to enter Parliament.