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Suffrage 125

This year Aotearoa New Zealand is celebrating 125 years since women successfully fought to be allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. There are lots of good online resources connected with this anniversary. This a good summary of the women’s movement in New Zealand during the Victorian era. While this provides more detail about the campaign.

On Sunday September 9th at 2pm at The Forrrester Gallery in Oamaru historian Dr Dorothy Page will be giving a public talk on 'Votes for Women - the Southern Story.'

The success in 1893 of the New Zealand-wide campaign for women's suffrage is often portrayed as almost solely due to Kate Sheppard of Christchurch but there is much more to the story. Come along to find out more about what happened here in Otago.

There is also a suffrage march planned for September 16th in Oamaru and other events that will take place during Victorian Heritage Week in November

Suffrage means the right to vote in political elections. In New Zealand, the women who agitated for this right are known as suffragists not suffragettes. Suffragette is a later, originally derogatory, term used to describe the women in other countries who resorted to more radical means in their struggle to gain the right to vote. You can read more about the distinction here.

Our district does have a suffragette connection though. Frances Parker grew up in the Hakataramea/Kurow area where her family farmed before she left for Cambridge University in 1896. Te Papa holds The Women’s Social and Political Union Medal for Valour that was awarded to Frances Parker. (Meanwhile the North Otago Museum has her parent’s cast iron camp oven!)

The most obvious artefact associated with women’s suffrage in New Zealand is the 1893 petition. I recently viewed the He Tohu exhibition at the National Library in Wellington and it was a powerful experience. Our staff have identified at least 491 women from what is now the Waitaki District who signed. Have a look at the petition online and see if you can find any of your relations. We will be sharing information about some of those local women on social media during September.

The other object that often appears in relation to suffrage is the white camellia. During the 100 year celebrations in 1993 a number of white “Kate Sheppard” camellias were planted locally. But why white camellias? Back in 1893 suffragists presented a white camellia to members of the House of Representatives who voted in favour of women’s suffrage. Those who had voted against it were given red camellias.

Suffrage 125 is a chance to rediscover the stories of the women who signed as well as a chance to reflect on women’s participation in civic life today and to ask, as Auckland Museum’s exhibition does “Are we there yet?”. If the answer is no, then it is also a chance to reflect on what inspiration we might draw from the suffragists to get there.

Chloe Searle