Detail of the Women's Suffrage Petition, showing signatures.

Archives New Zealand, LE1 1893/7a

In 1893 Aotearoa New Zealand became the first country in the world in which all women gained the right to vote in general elections — thanks to the women who created, organised and signed the Women’s Suffrage Petition.

She signed: Kate Sheppard

Kate Sheppard, offering the pen she used to sign.

Kate Sheppard | 1847–1934

New Zealand’s best-known suffragist, Kate Sheppard was born Catherine Wilson Malcolm in Liverpool in 1847. She became involved in the women’s suffrage movement after meeting Mary Leavitt, a delegate from the American Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1885.

Kate was a founding member of the New Zealand branch and was tasked with co-ordinating the local unions and franchise supporters. By 1893 she was at the forefront of the campaign resulting in the signing of the suffrage petition and the passing of the Electoral Act on 19 September.

The granting of the vote to women in New Zealand was only the beginning of Kate’s political work. In 1894 she travelled to London to support the English suffragists. She continued to work with the National Council of Women and in 1923 she was made a national life member of the organisation.

1893

Ka tuku pōti ngā tāne katoa mai i te tau 1879. Waihoki e hiahia ana te hunga wahine ki te tuku pōti kia rangona ai te reo a ngā wāhine ki rō pāremata.

Koia tētehi tino hiahia a te rōpu whai whakamana wahine i te rau tau tekau mā iwa.

The year of the “monster”

1893 was an election year. The suffragists organising the Petition knew that if the law was not changed before the election they would have to wait, at the very least, 3 more years for women to vote.

Similar petitions had been presented to Parliament in 1891 (signed by about 9,000 women), and 1892 (signed by about 20,000). The 1893 petition was, in the words of its main organiser Kate Sheppard, “a monster”.

Combined with a number of smaller petitions, it had nearly 32,000 signatures representing almost a quarter of all adult women in the country.


Tireless volunteers

A highlight from the He Tohu exhibition

Cartoon showing a woman politician knocking at the door of local politics.

Even in back lanes and alleys, resolute-looking female members of the committee present themselves at every door, with petition in hand, and volubly explain their mission. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

The Auckland Star, 1893

Image: Behold, she stands at the door and knocks, 1913. H-712-009


A radical notion

A highlight from the He Tohu exhibition

Several members of the National Council of Women.

‘Person’ includes woman.

— Electoral Act, 1893 (Definitions)

Image: National Council of Women, Christchurch, 1896. 1/2-041798-F

Get into the Petition’s past and present

Women’s suffrage — NZHistory

Search the signatories — NZHistory

Votes for women — Elections

Come explore He Tohu

In He Tohu you can see the Petition in person, along with He Whakaputanga and Te Tiriti.

Explore the stories of the Women's Suffrage Petition, and get to know the people who signed the document.

Come on in

video

The power to vote

"For such a tiny country in the world... we led by believing a woman has her own thoughts different to those of a man."
Speakers

Prof Charlotte Macdonald, Prof Marilyn Waring, Mihingarangi Forbes, Prof Rawinia Higgins and Dr Jackie Blue.

video

The power to vote

"For such a tiny country in the world... we led by believing a woman has her own thoughts different to those of a man."
Speakers

Prof Charlotte Macdonald, Prof Marilyn Waring, Mihingarangi Forbes, Prof Rawinia Higgins and Dr Jackie Blue.