Posts Tagged ‘Suffrage’

Today marks 129 years since women in Aotearoa gained the right to vote in General Elections, and a good crowd gathered at midday for a celebration in front of the Kate Sheppard Memorial. This year there were seats provided – a welcome change. There were several excellent speakers, including Lianne Dalziel.

Rosemary du Plessis, Chair of the local branch of the National Council of Women
Mayor Lianne Dalziel

This is the last time I’m likely to hear Lianne speak as Mayor and, as she pointed out, our next Mayor will be a man. It’s a bit like moving from having a Queen to having a King.

Several speakers acknowledged the recent death of the Queen, and tonight’s news was full of preparations for her funeral. Nowhere on the national news did I hear any acknowledgement that it was Suffrage Day today. After lunch with a group of friends I went home and filled out my voting papers for the local body elections. This seemed a most appropriate day to do it.

Today’s the day we got the vote
a time that’s worthy to promote

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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, being Suffrage Day, is a pertinent time to remember our obligation to vote in the local body elections.  Katie Pickles’ article in today’s ‘Press’ reminds us of Christchurch’s radical past, including my cousin Ettie Rout.

The women who fought to get us the vote in Aotearoa have been commemorated with the recent staging of ‘That Bloody Woman’, and it was great to have two cast members performing at today’s suffrage celebrations.  Not all the names of the first voters are known which makes Judy Small’s song “What was her name?” all the more poignant.

Award-winning poets at today's Suffrage celebrations

Award-winning poets at today’s Suffrage celebrations

The Electoral Act restrains me from suggesting who anyone should vote for, but one Central candidate has caused FIVE copies of the same piece of electoral material to be delivered to my letterbox on five different occasions.  To me this suggests either bad organisation or profligate squandering of resources – not qualities I’d vote for.

Whatever you do, please exercise the democratic right our sisters fought for.

“It’s vital that we use our vote
and I will finish on that note.”


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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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