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. Only two of these historically important documents are known to have survived and both are preserved at Archives New Zealand.
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. The resulting roll contained 23,853 signatures and, with the addition of 7,000 further signatures before it was presented to Parliament, the petition attained the suffragists‘ original target of 30,000 signatories.
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.
The 1893 women‘s franchise petition is on display in the Constitution Room at Archives New Zealand, Wellington, along with a facsimile of the first sheet, bearing the signature of Kate Sheppard.
A microfilm copy of the full petition is available in Archives New Zealand‘s public reading room, along with an alphabetical name index of signatories and a transcript with geographical listings.
Further information on New Zealand‘s Suffrage movement can be found on the NZ History website.
A high quality copy of this image can be ordered here.