Detail from the 1893 Woman‘s Suffrage Petition, Christchurch, Sheet No. 1. Archives reference: LE 1 1893/7a. Click on the image to enlarge or download.
When Governor Glasgow signed the Electoral Bill on 19 September 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing nation in the world where women had won the right to vote. The Bill was the outcome of years of meetings in towns and cities across the country, with women often travelling considerable distances to hear lectures and speeches, pass resolutions and sign petitions. A number of petitions were presented to both Houses of Parliament from the early 1880s till 1893.
The first of these was the unsuccessful 1892 women‘s franchise petition containing approximately 20,000 signatures. This was the culmination of many years work by the Women‘s Christian Temperance Movement and prominent suffragist, Kate Sheppard.
Despite the failure of this initial petition, another was organised in 1893, and was described by Kate Sheppard as "a monster petition" demanding the right for women to vote. Petition sheets, circulated throughout New Zealand, were returned to Christchurch where Kate Sheppard pasted each sheet end on end and rolled it around a section of a broom handle
In the end, 13 petitions were submitted to the House of Representatives. They contained the signatures of 31,872 women from across the country and across the social spectrum. Twelve of the petitions have not survived, but the "monster" that was pasted together did. This contains 25,519 signatures, including some men.
The roll was presented to Parliament with great drama. John Hall, Member of Parliament and suffrage supporter, brought it into the House and unrolled it down the central aisle of the debating chamber until it hit the end wall with a thud. Less than two months later, 109,461 women enrolled to vote in the 1893 election.
The 1893 Women's Suffrage Petition is on display at He Tohu, a permanent exhibition of three constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Women’s Suffrage Petition database on NZHistory is an excellent way to search for a signatory. This database allows you to search by surname, by suburb or town, by city or region, or by Sheet number. A digital version of each Sheet of the Petition is available.
If you would like to write a biography for He Tohu and NZHistory, check out our Women’s Suffrage Biography Research Guide.