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New Zealand, September 19,1893 - Women entitled to Vote

When the Governor, Lord Glasgow, signed the Electoral Act into law on 19 September 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

Women who owned property and paid rates (mainly widows and 'spinsters') were allowed to vote in local government elections in Otago and Nelson from 1867. This right was extended to the other provinces in 1876. In the later nineteenth century new opportunities opened up for women and girls (especially those from wealthy or middle-class families) in secondary and university education, medicine, and in church and charitable work. Attention soon turned to women's legal and political rights.

The passing of the Electoral Act was the culmination of years of agitation by Kate Sheppard (the country's most famous suffragette) with the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and other organisations. As part of this campaign, a series of massive petitions - including one earlier in 1893 signed by almost one in four adult women in New Zealand - were presented to Parliament.

Inside parliament, politicians such as John Hall, Robert Stout, Julius Vogel, William Fox, and John Ballance supported the movement. When Ballance suddenly died in office (27 April 1893), Richard Seddon replaced him as Premier. Seddon, though a member of Ballance's Liberal Party, opposed women's suffrage, which thus suffered an apparent setback as a cause. 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, several previously hostile members, moved to anger at Seddon's "underhand" behaviour while opposing the bill, voted in favour. This support sufficed to pass the bill, which the Royal Assent signed into law on 19 September 1893. In the 1893 general election women voted for the first time.

Even so, New Zealand women still had a long way to go to achieve political equality. They would not gain the right to stand for Parliament until 1919, and the first female MP (Elizabeth McCombs) was not elected until 1933 – 40 years after the introduction of women's suffrage. The number of female MPs did not reach double figures until the mid-1980s and women remain under-represented in Parliament.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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