Posts Tagged ‘Kate Sheppard’

I like to take part in an annual Suffrage commemoration on 19 September, but this year I’d seen no hint of any celebration.  I checked with an organisation I’m a member of, and they forwarded me an invitation to an event this morning.  I sent an RSVP and duly turned up outside the Art Gallery at 9.30am.  I’d guessed the promised short bus ride meant we’d be going to the house at 83 Clyde Road where Kate Sheppard once lived, and the news this morning confirmed that likelihood.  It’s wonderful that the Government has bought the house to be a public educational space focussing on New Zealand women and social change.  We arrived at the house on a perfect spring day.

Kate Sheppard’s house

My photo shows the front of the villa which is almost as it was in Kate Sheppard’s day.  She would have entered through a central front door, but the owners after her disliked the cold wind that blew along the hall, and moved the door to the side.  We sat in two front rooms where a cello duo played before and after the speeches.

Minister Megan Woods spoke of the house being a celebration of women’s achievements in a domestic space.  The pages of the suffrage petitions were pasted together in Kate Sheppard’s kitchen, and her circle of women activists might be considered New Zealand’s original kitchen cabinet.

Kate Sheppard’s kitchen (which later owners used as a bedroom)

Here they worked for the social change which would eventually spread internationally.  This house would have been where Kate Sheppard celebrated the success of the suffrage petition which led to women in Aotearoa New Zealand being the first to vote in national elections.  My great-aunts Emily and Ida Gardner were both signatories.  Kate entertained many leading feminists in this house, especially those involved in setting up the National Council of Women.  Although there have been alterations to the building there are still parts that would be recognisable to those of Kate’s time.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel spoke of the house being an essential element in our nation’s history and Christchurch city’s story.  She talked about the tenacity of the suffragists who organised a third petition after the first two had failed, and the courage of the women who signed the petition.  The message for women of today is to never give up.

Sue McCormack, Chancellor of the University of Canterbury said that Christchurch has always been a place filled with agitators for change.  She quoted Kate Sheppard: Change doesn’t come for free.  You’ve got to give to get it.   The University will work with Christchurch City Council and Heritage New Zealand to develop the potential of the house, and Sue noted that Kate had studied art at the University in 1882.

Hon. Marian Hobbs, recently elected Chair of Heritage New Zealand, stated that more communists went to Christ’s College than any other school in New Zealand.  The suffragists struggled for woman’s voice to be heard in many areas and feminists are still doing that work.  Today we see many examples of women who can do it and who are an example for society.

We were served morning tea in elegant vintage cups, then had time to explore the house and grounds.  Many walls featured posters of notable New Zealand women, as well as banners that were created last year for the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Suffrage 125 banners

Another banner

Hollyhocks and daisies push through the paving – as they do at my home

We chatted and admired the house before taking the bus back to the Art Gallery.  This was an inspiring and moving occasion to be part of, and I look forward to future events at Kate Sheppard’s house.

Kate Sheppard’s house was launched today
a special time in every way

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Yesterday was the pilot for a tour which will be run as part of the 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand.  We met at the W.E.A. where we witnessed a re-enactment of a Women’s Christian Temperance Union meeting.

Replica WCTU meeting

The part of Kate Sheppard, who was a leader of the suffrage movement, was ably played by Nancy McShane, herself a trade union activist for women’s rights.  She read Kate’s moving speech ‘Is it Right’, and the meeting concluded with everyone singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’.  Then we boarded a double decker bus to visit sites with connections to Kate Sheppard.

Our tour bus

Unfortunately many of these were places where the buildings no longer exist.  One that’s been restored is the Trinity Congregational Church.  This is where my parents were married in 1935, and I was interested to learn that Kate Sheppard worshipped there from 1869 to 1916.  I also learned that her home 1870s-1887 was in Madras Street, where the NZIM was situated before the earthquakes.  We visited Kate’s grave in the Addington Cemetery, which is flanked by white camellias.

Kate Sheppard’s grave

Her great niece Tessa Malcolm was buried beside her in 2013.

We walked across the road to have lunch at Oddfellow’s Cafe in the old Oddfellows Society Hall.  While there’s no known link with Kate to this Hall, she did attend meetings in the Oddfellows Hall in Lichfield Street.  The cafe was busy, and the food and and service were excellent.

Oddfellow’s Cafe

Our tour ended at the Kate Sheppard Memorial which was erected in 1993 to mark the centennial of Women’s Suffrage.  After information about the women portrayed in the memorial a fitting ending was Nancy McShane talking about ongoing work for women’s rights, especially equal pay for work of equal value.

Kate Sheppard Memorial

“This was a day to concentrate
on the accomplishments of Kate.”



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Kate Sheppard and Teresa May have both been labelled as “difficult”.  It’s a term that tends to be used by men for any woman who won’t be silenced.

The first written evidence of patriarchal silencing of women is contained in the Lagash Code of 2350BCE.  One statute states that “if a woman says [text illegible…] to a man, her mouth is crushed with burnt bricks.”

Set for 'That Bloody Woman'

Set for ‘That Bloody Woman’

Court Theatre’s “That Bloody Woman” is an exhilarating and energetic depiction of Kate Sheppard, a woman who refused to be silenced, and was the leader of the movement which led to Aotearoa New Zealand being the first country to give women the vote (Yay!).  As well as bringing Kate to life in a personal and moving way, the show portrayed her two firm supporters Jennie Lovell Smith (wife of William whom Kate married after Jennie died), Ada Wells (the first woman elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1917), and her principal opposition, Richard (King Dick) Seddon.  The show is a punk rock musical, and perhaps the most entertaining number was the one where Jennie and Ada supplied the f-word, which Kate was too dignified to utter.  Their wonderful chorus of ‘F***, f***, f***ety, f***’ will certainly linger in many ears!

The music was loud.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t catch some words in the more raucous numbers, and wondered if they’d have been clearer at a lower volume.  The feminist vibe was wonderful.  No interval in this show, because it would have detracted from the high energy.  The season ends on 30 July, and seats are selling fast.

This morning came the news that Teresa May will be U.K. Prime Minister within a few days.  She too has been called difficult.

The last word on difficult women comes from U.K. poet, Helen Mort published in nowthenmagazine.com:

In London, it’s said you’re never more than 6 feet
from a difficult woman. Have you or a colleague

had a difficult woman in the last 6 months?
If so, you may be entitled to compensation.
Do you have difficulty with our questions?
Are you afraid you may be difficult yourself?

“So are we difficult if we
want equal opportunity?”



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September 19th is Suffrage Day, the anniversary of the day in 1893 when women in Aotearoa were the first in the world to gain the right to vote in parliamentary elections.  I think it’s important that this day be marked, and I have plans to go to a commemoration at the Kate Sheppard Memorial at 12.30pm.  However it’s cold outside and rain is forecast, so I may just decide to stay home in the warmth.  Either way, those women who fought for our right to vote are in my mind today and I honour them for what they did.

“Kate Sheppard and her friends fought hard
they’ve rightly earned our high regard.”

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The Kate Sheppard Memorial has been a traditional gathering place for Christchurch feminists since 1993.  Sadly it was fenced off after February 2011, and I was pleased to learn a few weeks ago that there were plans for Mayor Lianne Dalziel to liberate the memorial on International Women’s Day, Saturday 8 March.  An e-mail notice announced that this would happen at 10am, that we should bring a white flower to toss in the river,  and that Lianne would be putting out a press statement about it.

I saw no sign of a press statement, but I duly turned up at 10am clutching a bag of white alyssums, the only white flowers in my garden at present.  It was wonderful to see the Kate Sheppard Memorial released at last.

Kate Sheppard Memorial

Kate Sheppard Memorial

There was one other woman there, who’d had the notice from the UN Feminists, but no sign of any liberation ceremony.  We did think the Memorial looked as though it was tilted slightly towards the river and weren’t sure whether it was like that in the olden days.  After waiting a few minutes we decided the floods must have caused cancellation (as has happened with other events, e.g. Culture Galore), and we tossed our flowers in the river anyway.

Tossing flowers in the river

Tossing flowers in the river

“It still was really good to see
Kate Sheppard and her friends now free.”

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