September 19, 1893: New Zealand Becomes The First Nation to Give Women the Right to Vote

In the late 1800s, women around the globe began organizing and advocating for the right to vote. On September 19, 1893, 130 years ago, New Zealand passed the Electoral Act and became the first self-governing country in the world to allow women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. It would take another 27 years for the United States to follow suit. The victory came after a hard-fought fight led by Kate Sheppard, a leading activist for the women’s suffrage movement in New Zealand.

The Marlborough Express – Marlborough, New Zealand: May 20, 1893

Catherine “Kate” Malcolm was born in Liverpool in 1847 and migrated to New Zealand in her early twenties. She met and married merchant Walter Sheppard in 1871 and became active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). There, she became acquainted with politics but also encountered sexism and prejudice.

Inspired by similar suffrage movements in the British Empire and the United States, Kate and other like-minded women in New Zealand began to gather for meetings. They knew they needed to gain the vote to have any real influence in society.

Opponents argued that the natural sphere of women was home and family, and allowing women to vote would detract from womanhood. Proponents called that argument farcical, claiming that allowing women to become involved would create policies that could protect and nurture families.

With the vote approaching, women supporting enfranchisement crisscrossed the country, collecting signatures on a petition. In September 1893, Kate Sheppard presented the petition to the New Zealand House of Representatives. The petition was a 900 ft. long scroll containing the signatures of 31,000 women (almost a quarter of the adult European female population in New Zealand). Dramatically, they unrolled the scroll across the chamber of the House. The House of Representatives voted and passed the Act. Following its passage, the Earl of Glasgow, Governor of New Zealand, signed the Electoral Act into law, allowing women aged 21 and over who were British subjects, including Māori, to vote.

The Nelson Evening Mail – Nelson, New Zealand: September 19, 1893

The women who worked tirelessly for the passage of enfranchisement presented members of parliament who supported the agenda with a white camellia on their lapels. After a long-fought battle, they had finally achieved victory. Less than two months later, over 100,000 women enrolled to vote in the 1893 election.

The victory for women in New Zealand ignited hope for suffragettes from other countries, including the United States. Following the triumph in New Zealand, Kate Sheppard advocated for women’s issues at home and across Europe. In 1992, New Zealand honored her work when they unveiled a new $10 note with her portrait. In 2008, she was also honored on a postage stamp with a white camellia.

If you would like to learn more about Kate Sheppard, the women’s suffrage movement, or explore our collection of New Zealand papers, search™ today.

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9 thoughts on “September 19, 1893: New Zealand Becomes The First Nation to Give Women the Right to Vote

  1. I was wondering why you close comments on these blog posts so quickly? Several times I believe I could have offered useful advice to a user, but I run into “Comments are closed.”

  2. Wyoming, United States, was the first place in the world to incorporate women’s suffrage, although other jurisdictions had already given limited suffrage to women who met various property qualifications. A U.S. territory in 1869, Wyoming’s first territorial legislature voted to give women the right to vote and to hold public office.

      1. When you vote with the value of property it makes voters more likely to vote for individual rights. Now people vote based on looks/good speech (often BS) to promote an agenda usually involving your money for some pet project like all those failed solar power companies that rip people off. Look up some of the secrets on YT how you are being ripped off with your panels and also read Crapitalism Liberals Who Are Making Millions Swiping Your Tax Dollars in which almost all of them are liberal and the rest are globalists that don’t give a flying F about either political party but will often side with the Republicans because communism is worse. Under globalism you at least have a small chance without the government telling you how to live but neither are sustaining models as they both ignore basic economics and DEFINITELY do not have individual moral values.

      2. Voting rights used to be based upon property ownage as a safety net so people will be less likely to vote in tyranny but now that safety net has been long thrown out.

  3. I enjoyed this article, thank you. It is inspiring, and informative, a little island under the British rule… kind of…. gives women the right to vote. I can see this discussion board has veered way off point, glad to say thanks for this bit of womens history.

  4. As US Supreme Court decisions and US State Legislatures & Governors take action to reduce women’s rights it is inspiring to read about a valient campaign by New Zealand to recognize women’s right to vote and how it succeeded! It give one hope that it takes time but justice can prevail!

  5. I think websites close comments because they have to monitor comments for libel and other stupidities, and for a small website it’s actually a daunting amount of work. But this is, uh, off topic …

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