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Women's suffrage petition now online

Did one of your ancestors sign the historic 1893 petition calling for women’s right to vote? If so, you can now search for their names online and contribute information about them. To mark Women’s Suffrage Day on 19 September, Manatū Taonga/Ministry for Culture and Heritage has made the names and address details of the women who signed the petition available as a searchable database on NZHistory so New Zealanders can search for family ties to this historic event.

‘Women’s suffrage is rightly celebrated as a great milestone in New Zealand history,’ says Neill Atkinson, Chief Historian at Manatū Taonga. When the governor 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 women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. In most other democracies – notably Britain and the United States – women couldn’t vote until after the First World War. ‘New Zealand’s world leadership in women’s suffrage has become part of our national identity,’ says Atkinson.

That achievement was the result of years of effort by suffrage campaigners. In 1891, 1892 and 1893 they compiled a series of massive petitions calling on Parliament to grant the vote to women. The biggest of them all, submitted on 28 July 1893, was signed by ‘Mary J. Carpenter and 25,519 others’ – about one in five New Zealand women at the time.

The petition contains the signatures of many leading suffragists and feminists, including Kate Sheppard, Marion Hatton, Rachel Reynolds, Ada Wells, Tailoresses’ Union leader Harriet Morison, writer Edith Grossman, and sisters Christina and Stella Henderson (whose younger sister, Elizabeth, then too young to sign, would later achieve fame as New Zealand’s first woman MP – under her married name, McCombs).

This huge roll of names is now preserved at Archives New Zealand, alongside the Treaty of Waitangi. The international significance of both documents has been recognised by their inclusion on the UNESCO Memory of the World register of documentary heritage.

Manatū Taonga worked with Archives NZ and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to make the petition available online. Now, members of the public can help preserve and contribute to our rich history by accessing the database, which contains information on more than 24,000 New Zealand women. You can search by name or location, arrange the database according to town, city or region, and add your own comments (or email information to the NZHistory team at: info@nzhistory.net.nz ).

To search the petition visit: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/petition.

Or learn more about the history of women and the vote in New Zealand at: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/womens-suffrage.


Updated on 23rd July 2015