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Women's Suffrage Petition biography guide

We are crowdsourcing biographical information about the women who signed the suffrage petition. Our goal is to collect as many biographies of these signatories as possible, and we want you to help us. Find out how you can contribute.

Telling the stories of the Women's Suffrage Petition

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 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition — Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine. Now we need your help to tell their stories.

Thirteen petitions were submitted to the House of Representatives in 1893 demanding the right for women to vote. They contained the signatures of 31,872 women from across the country covering the social spectrum. Twelve of the petitions have not survived, but the ‘monster’ that did contains 25,519 signatures, including some men.

We want your help to write a biography

Our goal is to collect as many biographies of these signatories as possible, and we want you to help us.

Your research will add to the growing number of biographies created for He Tohu, an exhibition of three constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand (and home of the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition).

The biography you write will feature on the Suffrage interactive on the floor of the exhibition, and also on the Suffrage Petition database at NZHistory.

Your work will help recognise and celebrate the important achievement of these individual women who, by acting together, made history.

Suffrage Petition database — NZHistory website

Getting started

The best place to start is the Women’s Suffrage Petition database on NZHistory. A digital version of each Sheet of the Petition is available. The Women’s Suffrage Petition database allows you to search by:

  • surname
  • suburb or town
  • city or region, or
  • by Sheet number.

Suffrage Petition database — NZHistory website

Selecting someone to write about

If you have a name in mind (such as someone from your family), check the database to see whether they have signed and if any information on them is already available.

If you don’t have a name in mind, use the database to pick a woman that interests you most. Why not try someone from your street, town, or region? Or someone with an unusual name? Can you find any men on the Petition? Or Māori women?

Women who have written the full names of their husbands are handy to research. ‘Mrs. Charles Hanson’ of Ponsonby may have a well-known husband, and then she will be easier to research.

Look for blocks of family names. It can be easier to locate information on families, which means you may find out snippets on several women in the process.

Google your woman or family. If there is already a family tree online it can make it easier for you. Google her full name in quotation marks with things like ‘New Zealand’ or ‘Dunedin’ or her husband’s name to get more targeted results. But beware of authenticity or reliability of the information you find.

Try searching for the woman’s husband, son, or father if you can’t find any records for her. Historically records were produced more for men than they were for women.

Things to watch out for

Our database only corresponds to the 1893 Suffrage Petition, not the 1893 Electoral Roll or earlier petitions (less than a third of those who signed the 1893 Petition went on to register on the 1893 Electoral Roll).

You can check whether or not we can publish a biography by searching the 1893 petition database on NZHistory for a particular name.

There can be mistakes in how a name has been transcribed from the Petition, and many women signed with the initials of their husband. So you may need to try different spellings of a surname.

Mothers and daughters often shared the same name. Although women had to be 21 to sign the Petition, there are some as young as 15. You may have to unpick which information belongs to which generation.

Suffrage Petition database — NZHistory website

Where to find information

There are lots of places you can look for information to create your biography we've listed the main ones below to get you started.

Libraries

Libraries have great information on families and may have subscriptions to things like Ancestry, Find My Past, NZSG collections, as well as Electoral rolls and published family histories. Church and parish records, community collections, and local museums can also be useful places to find information.

Alexander Turnbull Library research guides

Explore the research guides available online at Alexander Turnbull Library especially the Family History Guide.

Many women had sons who served during the First World War and may have been listed as those men’s next of kin. The Alexander Turnbull Library’s guides on war are very useful.

Alexander Turnbull Library — Research guides

Catalogues and website searches

You could run her name or her family names through the Alexander Turnbull Library unpublished collections catalogue or the National Library website.

Tiaki

National Library website

DigitalNZ

DigitalNZ is another valuable resource for researching about the Women's Suffrage Petition. On DigitalNZ you can discover more than 30 million digital items from more than 200 organisations on any topic, all for free.

DigitalNZ


Archives

Records at Archives New Zealand may give clues to some life events. Go to the Archives New Zealand database and do a simple search for her name. The date, series and agency information will usually give you the information you need without needing to call up a file.

Archway

Archives research guides

Explore the research guides available online at Archives New Zealand.

Archives New Zealand — Research guides

Probate

You may be able to find a Probate for her. These often include a Will. Digitised Probates are available for free at Family Search. If you can’t find a probate for her, search for the probates of her father, husband or son(s)/children, as they are often the beneficiaries of wills.

Family Search — Probate records 1843–1998

Passenger lists

Many of these women will have been migrants to New Zealand. You can search the passenger lists held at Archives New Zealand for free at Family Search. The passenger lists will tell you:

  • when she came here
  • what ship she was on
  • her age when migrating
  • her occupation
  • where she came from, and
  • where she ended up in New Zealand.

Family Search — Passenger Lists, 1839-1973


Birth deaths and marriage information

Her absence or presence in the birth deaths and marriage (BDM) indexes can tell you if she was born in New Zealand and whether she died here; the name of her parents; who she married; and her children. Some libraries also hold copies of BDM Indexes.

Births, deaths and marriages online — New Zealand birth, death and marriage information

GRO — UK birth, death and marriage information.

Scotlandspeople — Scottish birth, death and marriage information.

PRONI — for Northern Ireland birth, death and marriage information.


Family notices, court cases, newspapers

Family notices, court cases, and other newspaper items up to 31 December 1950 can be found on Papers Past and the Australian equivalent Trove.

Papers Past

Trove

Writing your biography

Read some of the submitted biographies at NZHistory for ideas. When you start writing please use the following format.

  • Title your biography with the Sheet number and name of the woman as she signed:- 496 Euphemia W. Doull.
  • Aim for around 200-300 words per biography. Longer ones are suitable for NZHistory but will need to be shortened for He Tohu.
  • Record full names; maiden and/or married, year and place of birth, family, death, job, and so on, if you can.
  • Please note your sources at the end of the biography, if possible.
  • If you wish to be credited, please include your name.
  • We can upload photographs if you have them. Please include the source if you submit a photograph.

We also want to know about her character, any organisations she was part of, or events she experienced, if possible. Even if you don’t find much information about someone, write it down anyway. Women are difficult to trace in published records, so any information, as small as it is, will be useful.

Submitting your biography

By submitting your biography to NZHistory it will also appear in the He Tohu exhibition.

You will be credited for writing the biography and notified of any use of the biography beyond He Tohu or NZHistory.

Please submit your biography and/or images to webqueries@mch.govt.nz

Thank you!

From the team at He Tohu and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage