Women's Suffrage in New Zealand
eBook - ePub

Women's Suffrage in New Zealand

Patricia Grimshaw

  1. 172 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Women's Suffrage in New Zealand

Patricia Grimshaw

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About This Book

The definitive account of the New Zealand suffrage movement, Women's Suffrage in New Zealand remains the only study of how New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote. It tells the fascinating story of the courage and the determination of the early New Zealand feminists led by the remarkable Kate Sheppard, whose ideas and attitudes still resonate today.

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The New Woman

When women’s rights have come to stay,
Oh, who will rock the cradle?
When wives are at the polls all day,
Oh, who will rock the cradle?
When Doctor Mamma’s making pills,
When Merchant Mamma’s selling bills,
Of course, ’twill cure all women’s ills,
But who will rock the cradle?
New Zealand Graphic, August 1891
IN nineteenth-century Western society the traditional position of women was gradually altering under the influence of what became known as the feminist movement. The movement spread to many aspects of women’s social, economic and political life, but in essence it worked for the emancipation of woman from her legal and social subjection to the male sex, and attempted to gain for her a degree of equality with man in every appropriate sphere, both public and private. As the principle of democracy spread in society, and more and more men were granted a voice in political affairs, it was to be expected that here was yet another domain in which women would sue for equal opportunity. Their aspirations in this sphere generally met determined opposition, and required an organized and sustained campaign for success. The interest of contemporary observers was often captured by such suffrage movements to a far greater extent than by the many other conquests, ill-defined and indistinct, but of equal importance, made by woman in her search for full development.
The life of New Zealand women in the first fifty years of the colony’s existence had largely been one of harsh backbreaking toil as they strove with their menfolk to establish farms and settlements in this distant territory. For the most part isolated and absorbed in the practical necessities of daily life, they were nevertheless by no means untouched by the new ideas on women’s rights that were current in the northern hemisphere. Before investigating the course of the suffrage movement in New Zealand and its success in 1893 it is important to place this in the context of the feminist movement as a whole and to see how it had affected women’s position by that date.
Perhaps the two basic elements of nineteenth-century feminism were the education of girls and women at all levels and the undertaking of paid employment by an increasing number of women, who thus shared with the male population the task of breadwinning. Both these elements were clearly visible in the New Zealand of the early 1890s.
While the early settlements of New Zealand struggled through their first years, little regard was paid to the education of either boys or girls, which was haphazard even at the most elementary level. When communities began to discuss the provision of secondary schools it was the education of boys that concerned them. That girls in New Zealand nevertheless received an early opportunity for secondary education was largely the work of an educationalist from Port Chalmers, Miss Learmonth Dalrymple.1 A woman of wide interests in all aspects of education from the infant level upwards, Miss Dalrymple had taken a particular interest in furthering the higher education of her sex. A regular correspondent of Miss Buss and Miss Beale, who achieved so much for girls’ secondary education in England, Miss Dalrymple was swift to seize the opportunity of putting their ideas into practice in her adopted country.
When in the 1860s discussion arose on the establishment of a boys’ secondary school in Dunedin, Miss Dalrymple formed a committee of women, with herself at the head, to press for a school for girls.2 She enlisted the aid of a number of prominent Dunedin citizens, including James Fulton, W. H. Reynolds, J. Macandrew and Sir John Richardson, and succeeded in her campaign. Shortly after a boys’ school opened its doors, the Otago Girls’ High School followed, in 1871. Into the curriculum and organization of this school, Miss Dalrymple was able to put many of Miss Buss’s ideas,3 and the Dunedin school in its turn served as a model for later girls’ schools in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Napier, Nelson, and Invercargill. In 1877, girls, along with their brothers, received the right to free primary education.
At the same time the foundation of a university was under discussion, and it was again Miss Dalrymple who acted to secure the inclusion of women. In 1871 when negotiations were in progress for a University of New Zealand, and the newly established Otago University Council was in session, Miss Dalrymple originated a petition for the admission of women to the university’s lectures, degrees, and scholarships.4 The petition, signed by 149 Dunedin women, received a favourable response from the council, where the principle was warmly supported by Robert Stout. The University of New Zealand similarly passed no regulation making distinction between the sexes,5 and in 1874 Kate Milligan Edger, daughter of an Auckland nonconformist minister, commenced work for a mathematics degree.6 * She graduated as Bachelor of Arts in 1877, the year before London University opened its degrees to women, and at the same time as English reformers were beginning their long struggle to gain full admission for women in the older English universities. Many more women followed in her footsteps, and by 1893 they constituted over half the number of university students in New Zealand.7
Women students swiftly accustomed themselves to university life, and soon showed that intellectually they could well hold their own with the men. Although a certain amount of rivalry between the sexes was noted, tinged with bitterness when the women students surpassed the men, 8 the presence of the girls appeared to be accepted fairly readily. At least one lecturer, William Steadman Aldis, who arrived in Auckland in the 1880s, was astonished at the casual way the presence of women students was accepted. In England he had once taught a class which contained a few girls, who huddled embarrassed at the back of the room. In Auckland he found ‘a cheerful bevy of colonial damsels facing him from the front benches, whilst the men sat modestly at the back’.9 Some had feared that women would turn the university into a ladies’ sewing guild, while others had expressed anxiety for the girls’ mental health under the intellectual strain. It was soon evident, however, that women undergraduates abetted any extracurricular student activities, including boisterous capping ceremonies, which was felt to be a comfort, if not to a harassed chairman, at least to those who feared women students were ‘incorrigible “blue stockings”’.10
‘Let us hear no more of the intellectual inferiority of women’,11 an Auckland editor wrote when Kate Edger graduated, and from then on frequent astonishment was expressed that older universities still refused to admit women to their degrees. In 1890, for example, it was suggested that the University of New Zealand confer its own degrees on Cambridge and Oxford women graduates, as a hint, ‘a pretty broad hint’,12 that New Zealand considered their policies quite behind the times. A memorial was sent by the University Council to the University of Cambridge the following year pointing out the injustice of its attitude.
By 1893, therefore, all New Zealand girls received primary education, a certain number were receiving secondary education of a reasonably high standard, and a small but influential group were receiving university education. This education of girls was the primary achievement of the nineteenth-century feminist impulse; but the gradual infiltration of women of the middle and upper classes into public employment was seemingly the most novel to the contemporary observer.
By 1891, well over 45,000 women were classed as wage-earners.13 Most, perhaps, of these had been obliged to take up work from economic necessity, as the depression and poverty spread its grip on the New Zealand of the ’eighties; but many had done so with consciously feminist motives. They were now educated, and they wanted the independence gained from a job, a personal salary, a sense of greater importance in the community. The very fact of taking employment outside the home illustrated the changing attitude to the role of women, and, by introducing them to the competition of male workers and employers, and to increased regulation by the state, added to the ranks of conscious feminists in their number.
Of the spheres of work entered by the better educated New Zealand women, the...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half-title
  3. Title Page
  4. Preface
  5. Table of Contents
  6. Illustrations
  7. Introduction
  8. 1 : The New Woman
  9. 2 : Early Parliaments and Women’s Rights
  10. 3 : Women and the Temperance Movement
  11. 4 : The Women’s Christian Temperance Union
  12. 5 : The Suffrage Movement Gathers Way
  13. 6 : The Movement in Full Swing
  14. 7 : The Politicians’ Dilemma
  15. 8 : The Debate on Women’s Suffrage
  16. 9 : Success
  17. 10 : The First Election
  18. 11 : Liberals, Teetotallers, or Feminists?
  19. 12 : Post Mortem on the Suffrage
  20. Bibliography
  21. Index
  22. Plates
  23. Copyright