In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world with universal suffrage: all New Zealand women now had the right to vote. This achievement owed much to an extraordinary document: the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. Over 270 metres long, with the signatures of some 24,000 women (and at least twenty men), the Suffrage Petition represented the culmination of many years of campaigning by suffragists, led by Kate Sheppard, and women throughout the country. The women who signed the petition came from many walks of life.
The names of university graduates appear on the petition sheets, together with some who could mark their names only with a cross. Teachers, domestic servants, shopkeepers and nurses signed; public benefactors appear, and a few women with criminal convictions. Maori women shared many of the suffragists’ concerns for social justice and temperance as well as political representation, and their signatures appear on the Suffrage Petition. Other women who signed had immigrated – many from Britain, some from Europe or Asia.
The story of the Women’s Suffrage Petition is told here through the lives of over 150 women who signed; alongside is the narrative of the campaign for women’s suffrage. The first page of the campaign for women’s suffrage. The first page of the petition is included, with twenty-one sheets representing different parts of the country.