Local women active in battle to gain vote

Ambitious Gisborne Women exhibition.

Ambitious Gisborne Women exhibition.

125TH ANNIVERSARY: Tairawhiti Museum director Eloise Wallace (left) and researcher Jean Johnston honour leading Gisborne suffragist Margaret Sievwright. An upcoming museum exhibition entitled Ambitious Gisborne Women runs from November 9 to March 3 and commemorates the 125th anniversary of universal suffrage, where New Zealand women became the first in the world to vote without having to reach certain qualifications such as wealth, education or property ownership. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell
MONSTER PETITION: The main suffrage petition of 1893, and by far the biggest, contained the signatures of about 25,000 women. Twelve other smaller petitions, which have since been lost, took the total number of signatures to 32,000. By comparison there were 17,000 signatures on the 1892 petition and 9000 on the 1891 petition. Sir John Hall formally presented the main petition to parliament on this day, August 11, in 1893. The petition can be viewed in the He Tohu exhibition at Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa National Library of New Zealand in Wellington. Photo courtesy of Archives New Zealand, Head Office, Wellington. Reference: LE1, 1893/7a

Eloise Wallace, director of Tairawhiti Museum, and researcher Jean Johnston speak to The Gisborne Herald’s Wynsley Wrigley about the upcoming Ambitious Gisborne Women exhibition, which will commemorate 125 years of women voting in New Zealand. Kiwi women first cast a vote in a general election on November 28, 1893 . .

Margaret Home Sievwright is honoured by an obelisk in the Rose Garden, but she is far from being the only Gisborne woman to arduously campaign for universal suffrage.

Tairawhiti Museum, in conjunction with researcher Jean Johnston, aims to lift the profile of Gisborne suffragists in an exhibition entitled Ambitious Gisborne Women, from November 9 to March 3.

Eloise Wallace, director of Tairawhiti Museum, is hopeful the exhibition will be as successful as the Recovery: Women’s Overseas Service in WW1 exhibition held last year.

The Recovery exhibition not only raised awareness and interest in historic events of a century ago, but resulted in many descendants of WW1 nurses coming forward with photographs, objects or new information.

“We are very keen to ensure that the enthusiasm, commitment, support and campaigning by large numbers of women in regions like Gisborne for the suffrage movement, through signing petitions, working in local groups and associations, be recognised as absolutely vital to all New Zealand women winning the right to vote in 1893,’’ said Mrs Wallace.

A petition calling for universal suffrage was formally presented to parliament on August 11, 1893, 125 years ago today, following similar petitions in 1891 and 1892.

The 1893 petition contained the signatures of more than 25,000 women, but only included four Gisborne signatories who signed the petition in Napier and Frasertown.

When combined with a number of smaller petitions, there were nearly 32,000 women, or almost a quarter of the adult European female population of New Zealand represented on the petition.

That main petition today resides in the National Library He Tohu exhibition.

The names of 221 women from Gisborne appeared only on the previous 1892 suffrage petition.

Mrs Wallace said it was an accident of history that only four Gisborne women appear in the main petition of 1893.
“Gisborne certainly would have had its own petition in 1893, but along with some other regions, it was for some reason not attached to the main petition and has not survived.”

It gave a false impression of the suffrage movement in Gisborne.
‘‘We want those other names to see the light of day and to show that Gisborne women were really mobilised here for universal suffrage.”

Those 221 Gisborne names can be viewed on the museum’s Facebook or website.

The four Gisborne women who signed the 1893 petition were the Mayoress Elizabeth Townley, Isobel Morice, Edith Hardinge and Edith Williams, the third daughter of Archdeacon Leonard Williams who later became the Bishop of Waiapu.

Many of the Gisborne women named in the 1892 petition formed a number of active political groups leading to an 1894 newspaper headline throughout the country of “Ambitious Gisborne Women”.

They will feature in the museum’s exhibition and later in The Gisborne Herald.
Mrs Johnston said she didn’t yet know much about Mrs Hardinge except that she was originally from Frasertown and was living in Taradale by 1896, according to the Hawke’s Bay electoral roll.

Kate Sheppard NZ’s leading suffragist

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union played a significant role in the battle for universal suffrage although its liquor prohibition goal resulted in the liquor industry becoming a powerful opponent.

Kate Sheppard, a member of the temperance union, was to become New Zealand’s leading suffragist. Today she appears on the country’s $10 note.

She organised the nationwide petitions, lobbied, campaigned, and formed a strong relationship with MP and former Premier Sir John Hall who was the leading parliamentary campaigner for universal suffrage.

In 1893, Mrs Sheppard pasted the sheets of signatures onto a long roll measuring 270 metres and this was rolled out on the floor of parliament on July 28.

Sir John Hall stressed the importance of collecting signatures for mass petitions to demonstrate conclusively that women wanted to vote.

When the number of signatories increased by 10,000 names each time a petition was undertaken, it put pressure on politicians.

The suffrage petitions are recognised as playing a significant part in the passing of legislation to extend the vote to women.

Mrs Johnston said that Mrs Sievwright came to the fore in Gisborne when she was elected onto the Waiapu Licensing Bench in 1894 and elected president of the Gisborne Women’s Political Association.

It was this organisation that she represented on the first National Council of Women in 1896 and was made a vice-president. Mrs Sheppard was elected president.

In both organisations there was a push to change the new law to include women being able to be elected as members of parliament. This was not achieved until 1919.

After Mrs Sievwright’s death in 1905, her confident co-workers, Mrs Agnes Scott, Mrs Margaret Maynard, and Mrs Elizabeth Townley raised funds and erected the Sievwright Memorial.

In 1908, they formed the Cook County Women’s Guild.

Through sheer determination they encouraged community contributions to set up the first creche, which then became the Heni Materoa Children’s Home.

Lady Carroll (Heni Materoa), the wife of Sir James Carroll, was another Guild supporter and the home was named in her honour.

The Guild’s efforts also led to the establishment of the Elizabeth Townley Maternity Home in Childers Road.

One of Mrs Sievwright’s step daughters, Roberta, ran a school in Gisborne.

Another daughter, Wilma, went on to study medicine in Edinburgh and married Mrs Sheppard’s son, Douglas.

At one time, the three Sievwright sisters lived in the family home in Sievwright Lane but there are no relatives living in Gisborne today.

“We are one of the few towns that has a memorial to an individual woman,’’ said Mrs Wallace.

“Even if it is a bit hidden away where it is, compared to where it used to be in Peel Street.”

Mrs Johnston said the suffragettes were determined that extending the franchise in 1893 would equally apply to Maori women although “Old King Dick” (premier Richard Seddon) wasn’t keen”.

Mrs Wallace said there is now growing awareness of the role Maori women played in the prohibition and suffrage movements.

“It’s always been Kate Sheppard in the past. But, when you read the petitions, the names of many Maori women are there.’’

James Carroll, MP for Eastern Maori, originally opposed Sir John Hall’s Female Suffrage Bill.

However, in the 1893 election as the Liberal candidate for the local general seat of Waiapu, he supported universal suffrage which had become the law of the land after the Governor Lord Glasgow signed a new Electoral Act on September 19, 1893.

Eloise Wallace, director of Tairawhiti Museum, and researcher Jean Johnston speak to The Gisborne Herald’s Wynsley Wrigley about the upcoming Ambitious Gisborne Women exhibition, which will commemorate 125 years of women voting in New Zealand. Kiwi women first cast a vote in a general election on November 28, 1893 . .

Margaret Home Sievwright is honoured by an obelisk in the Rose Garden, but she is far from being the only Gisborne woman to arduously campaign for universal suffrage.

Tairawhiti Museum, in conjunction with researcher Jean Johnston, aims to lift the profile of Gisborne suffragists in an exhibition entitled Ambitious Gisborne Women, from November 9 to March 3.

Eloise Wallace, director of Tairawhiti Museum, is hopeful the exhibition will be as successful as the Recovery: Women’s Overseas Service in WW1 exhibition held last year.

The Recovery exhibition not only raised awareness and interest in historic events of a century ago, but resulted in many descendants of WW1 nurses coming forward with photographs, objects or new information.

“We are very keen to ensure that the enthusiasm, commitment, support and campaigning by large numbers of women in regions like Gisborne for the suffrage movement, through signing petitions, working in local groups and associations, be recognised as absolutely vital to all New Zealand women winning the right to vote in 1893,’’ said Mrs Wallace.

A petition calling for universal suffrage was formally presented to parliament on August 11, 1893, 125 years ago today, following similar petitions in 1891 and 1892.

The 1893 petition contained the signatures of more than 25,000 women, but only included four Gisborne signatories who signed the petition in Napier and Frasertown.

When combined with a number of smaller petitions, there were nearly 32,000 women, or almost a quarter of the adult European female population of New Zealand represented on the petition.

That main petition today resides in the National Library He Tohu exhibition.

The names of 221 women from Gisborne appeared only on the previous 1892 suffrage petition.

Mrs Wallace said it was an accident of history that only four Gisborne women appear in the main petition of 1893.
“Gisborne certainly would have had its own petition in 1893, but along with some other regions, it was for some reason not attached to the main petition and has not survived.”

It gave a false impression of the suffrage movement in Gisborne.
‘‘We want those other names to see the light of day and to show that Gisborne women were really mobilised here for universal suffrage.”

Those 221 Gisborne names can be viewed on the museum’s Facebook or website.

The four Gisborne women who signed the 1893 petition were the Mayoress Elizabeth Townley, Isobel Morice, Edith Hardinge and Edith Williams, the third daughter of Archdeacon Leonard Williams who later became the Bishop of Waiapu.

Many of the Gisborne women named in the 1892 petition formed a number of active political groups leading to an 1894 newspaper headline throughout the country of “Ambitious Gisborne Women”.

They will feature in the museum’s exhibition and later in The Gisborne Herald.
Mrs Johnston said she didn’t yet know much about Mrs Hardinge except that she was originally from Frasertown and was living in Taradale by 1896, according to the Hawke’s Bay electoral roll.

Kate Sheppard NZ’s leading suffragist

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union played a significant role in the battle for universal suffrage although its liquor prohibition goal resulted in the liquor industry becoming a powerful opponent.

Kate Sheppard, a member of the temperance union, was to become New Zealand’s leading suffragist. Today she appears on the country’s $10 note.

She organised the nationwide petitions, lobbied, campaigned, and formed a strong relationship with MP and former Premier Sir John Hall who was the leading parliamentary campaigner for universal suffrage.

In 1893, Mrs Sheppard pasted the sheets of signatures onto a long roll measuring 270 metres and this was rolled out on the floor of parliament on July 28.

Sir John Hall stressed the importance of collecting signatures for mass petitions to demonstrate conclusively that women wanted to vote.

When the number of signatories increased by 10,000 names each time a petition was undertaken, it put pressure on politicians.

The suffrage petitions are recognised as playing a significant part in the passing of legislation to extend the vote to women.

Mrs Johnston said that Mrs Sievwright came to the fore in Gisborne when she was elected onto the Waiapu Licensing Bench in 1894 and elected president of the Gisborne Women’s Political Association.

It was this organisation that she represented on the first National Council of Women in 1896 and was made a vice-president. Mrs Sheppard was elected president.

In both organisations there was a push to change the new law to include women being able to be elected as members of parliament. This was not achieved until 1919.

After Mrs Sievwright’s death in 1905, her confident co-workers, Mrs Agnes Scott, Mrs Margaret Maynard, and Mrs Elizabeth Townley raised funds and erected the Sievwright Memorial.

In 1908, they formed the Cook County Women’s Guild.

Through sheer determination they encouraged community contributions to set up the first creche, which then became the Heni Materoa Children’s Home.

Lady Carroll (Heni Materoa), the wife of Sir James Carroll, was another Guild supporter and the home was named in her honour.

The Guild’s efforts also led to the establishment of the Elizabeth Townley Maternity Home in Childers Road.

One of Mrs Sievwright’s step daughters, Roberta, ran a school in Gisborne.

Another daughter, Wilma, went on to study medicine in Edinburgh and married Mrs Sheppard’s son, Douglas.

At one time, the three Sievwright sisters lived in the family home in Sievwright Lane but there are no relatives living in Gisborne today.

“We are one of the few towns that has a memorial to an individual woman,’’ said Mrs Wallace.

“Even if it is a bit hidden away where it is, compared to where it used to be in Peel Street.”

Mrs Johnston said the suffragettes were determined that extending the franchise in 1893 would equally apply to Maori women although “Old King Dick” (premier Richard Seddon) wasn’t keen”.

Mrs Wallace said there is now growing awareness of the role Maori women played in the prohibition and suffrage movements.

“It’s always been Kate Sheppard in the past. But, when you read the petitions, the names of many Maori women are there.’’

James Carroll, MP for Eastern Maori, originally opposed Sir John Hall’s Female Suffrage Bill.

However, in the 1893 election as the Liberal candidate for the local general seat of Waiapu, he supported universal suffrage which had become the law of the land after the Governor Lord Glasgow signed a new Electoral Act on September 19, 1893.

Suffrage 125 events in Gisborne

August 27
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will speak at a breakfast organised by Gisborne BPW and Chartered Accountants Australia-NZ at Emerald Hotel in celebration of the 125th anniversary of universal suffrage. Ms Ardern will speak about her political career and gender-related issues.

September 11
A screening at Dome Theatre of the British film Suffragette starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep. Organised by Gisborne BPW.

September 22
A footpath march in period costume or in purple to Margaret Sievwright Obelisk in the Rose Garden next to Gisborne District Council. Organised by Gisborne BPW.

September 9 to March 3
Ambitious Gisborne Women exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum.

1893 dates
August 11: Sir John Hall presents the universal suffrage petition of 32,000 signatures to parliament.
September 8: Electoral Act giving women the vote is passed 20-18 in the Legislative Councillors (upper house). Two councillors who had previously opposed women’s suffrage changed their votes to embarrass Premier Richard Seddon who had attempted to manipulate the voting. The House of Representatives had passed similar Bills in 1891 and 1892, but the Legislative Council had voted against the legislation.
September 19: Governor Lord Glasgow signs the Electoral Act into law.
November 28: More than 90,000 New Zealand women vote in the general election where Seddon’s Liberal Government increases its majority and wins 58 percent of the vote.

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