This Day in History – November 28th, 1893

New Zealand women gained the right to vote with the passage of a bill by the Legislative Council on November 28th 1893. The House of Representatives (then the elected lower house) had passed such a bill several times previously, but for the first time in 1893 the appointed Legislative Council did not block it.

Kate Sheppard

Kate Sheppard

The growth of women’s suffrage in New Zealand largely resulted from the broad political movement led by Kate Sheppard, the country’s most famous suffragette. Inside parliament, politicians such as John Hall, Robert Stout, Julius Vogel, William Fox, and John Ballance supported the movement. When Ballance became Premier in 1891 and established/consolidated the Liberal Party, many believed that female suffrage would ensue imminently, but attempts to pass a suffrage bill repeatedly met with blocks in the Legislative Council, which Ballance’s outgoing predecessor, Harry Atkinson, had stacked with conservative politicians.

When Ballance suddenly died in office on April 27th 1893, Richard Seddon replaced him as Premier. Seddon, though a member of Ballance’s Liberal Party, opposed women’s suffrage, and expected it to be again blocked in the upper house. Despite Seddon’s opposition, Members of Parliament assembled sufficient strength in the House of Representatives to pass the bill. When it arrived in the Legislative Council, two previously hostile members, moved to anger at Seddon’s “underhand” behaviour in getting one member to change his vote, voted in favour of the bill. Hence the bill was passed by 20 to 18, and with the Royal Assent it was signed into law on September 19th, 1893. In the 1893 general election women voted for the first time, although they were not eligible to stand as candidates until 1919.

Kate Sheppard $10

It is often said by this measure New Zealand became the first country in the world to have granted women’s suffrage.

Flourish 3

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