Women's suffrage petition presented

28 July 1893

The third massive suffrage petition presented to Parliament in three years, this one was signed by more than 25,000 women. A dozen other, smaller suffrage petitions were also submitted around the same time. When pro-suffrage MP Sir John Hall presented them to the House of Representatives on 11 August, he noted that taken together they contained the signatures of nearly 32,000 women − almost a quarter of the entire adult European female population of New Zealand.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and other organisations had campaigned for the right to vote since the mid-1880s. They organised a series of huge petitions to Parliament: in 1891 eight petitions containing more than 9000 signatures were gathered, and in 1892 six petitions containing almost 20,000. In both years the House of Representatives passed electoral bills that would have enfranchised all adult women. On each occasion, however, opponents sabotaged the legislation in the more conservative upper house, the Legislative Council, by adding devious amendments.

In 1893, following the presentation of the giant third petition – reportedly the largest ever presented to an Australasian parliament – another bill was easily passed in the House. Once again, all eyes were on the Legislative Council. Liquor interests, worried that female voters would favour their opponents, petitioned the Council to reject the bill. Suffragists responded with mass rallies and a flurry of telegrams to members. 

Prime Minister Richard Seddon and other opponents of women’s suffrage again tried to sabotage the bill through various underhand tactics, but this time their interference backfired. Two opposition councillors who had previously opposed women’s suffrage changed their votes to embarrass Seddon. On 8 September the bill was passed by 20 votes to 18.

When the governor, Lord Glasgow, signed a new Electoral Act into law on 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to grant all adult women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

You can now search a database of the signatures from the 1893 petition here.

Image: Detail from the 1893 suffrage petition