Posts Tagged ‘Suffrage day’

Today I attended a Suffrage Day celebration at the national Kate Sheppard Memorial.  There were about fifty people, little need for social distancing, and no masks in sight.  I’ve been to similar events almost every year since 1993, and I wonder how long the same faithful feminists will continue to attend.

I understand Covid 19 made it uncertain whether any public event would go ahead, and there was little promotion of it.  No acknowledgement of the special date  in this morning’s Press.

Rosemary du Plessis introducing the speakers

The M.C. for the celebration was Rosemary du Plessis, representing the National Council of Women, and several speakers urged us to use our vote in the forthcoming General Election.  I’m sure they were speaking to the converted.  There was mention of a project to raise funds for seating near the memorial, which I would certainly appreciate.  One speaker pushed the case for suffrage to be extended to 16 and 17 year olds something I agree with.  She pointed out that young people have demonstrated their abilities by organising the School Strike 4 Climate, and deserve to have a say in the political process.

Our voting privilege exists
thanks to the work of suffragists

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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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Today is the 124th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand.  I’ve already voted in this year’s General Election.  Make sure you do too!

Katie Pickles has written an article drawing comparisons between Kate Sheppard and Jacinda Ardern.

For the first time in many years I won’t be at the lunchtime commemoration at the Kate Sheppard Memorial, because I’m going to a writing course in Avonhead.  Maybe there’ll be an opportunity there to mark Suffrage Day?

Flowerless Camellia

The white camellia I planted last year has not flowered yet despite being fed camellia food.  What does this signify?

“Today is an important day
I’ll mark it in a private way.”

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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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