|New Zealand women marching for suffrage|
The Victorian Age is the Age of Change, however. All over the world women are beginning to question the status quo and demanding their rights. And contrary to the brute we too often paint the Victorian male as, many intelligent men are getting their point.
Today I posed as a freelance journalist to record a turning point in that struggle. On this day the New Zealand Parliament made history by deciding women had the right to vote, making them the first modern nation to do so. (I have to say “modern” because many “primitive” peoples let women help select chiefs, proving themselves more enlightened than their “civilized” counterparts.)
|Sir John Hall|
The ladies quickly found out that without the vote, they could do little to change the laws. So this conservative group took on the radical cause of Women’s Suffrage. Mrs. Sheppard, knowing this was bigger than the Temperance Movement, made it a separate cause to bring in women outside the Union. She turned out to be a very moving speaker and gifted organizer and has gotten many to rally around the cause.
|The first page of the Petition|
(click to enlarge)
The bill passed the House of Representatives with a wide margin. It still has to go through the 38 men of the Legislative Council where it will squeak through. It will be found out later that Premier Richard Seddon will order one of his Liberal Party councilors to change his vote to a “Neh.” Two other councilors, enraged by his interference will change their own votes to a “Yea,” allowing the bill to pass 20 to 18. Later the Liberal Party will take bows for giving women the vote.
On 19 September, Governor Lord Glasgow will give Royal Assent, making the bill a law. Women will vote for the first time on 28 November. Although women cannot be elected to the House of Representatives until 1919, this year Elizabeth Yates will be elected the Mayor of Onehunga, making her the first woman mayor in the British Empire. And in just a little over a hundred years, in 1997, New Zealand will have a woman Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, leading the nation.
There was quite a cheer from the crowd of ladies outside when then were given the good news. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the exuberant women--everything from little girls to elderly matrons, society women standing next to scullery maids, Europeans and Maori alike--as they laughed, cried and hugged each other. It is more than just a vote to them. Their government is acknowledging that they are members of society.
Hats off to you, fine ladies of New Zealand. Bravo!
Timeline of Women’s Suffrage Around the World