19 Sep 2017

Marchers mark 124 years since NZ women's suffrage

4:05 pm on 19 September 2017

Women and men have gathered around the country to mark 124 years since New Zealand women won the right to vote.

Kate Fulton, Debs Martin and Lulu Purda getting ready to walk in the Suffrage Day march in Nelson today.

Kate Fulton, Debs Martin and Lulu Purda getting ready to walk in the Suffrage Day march in Nelson today. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

On 19 September 1893 Kate Sheppard and suffrage campaigners were finally able to achieve the vote for women.

A Mrs McPherson became the first woman in New Zealand to cast a vote in Greymouth's voting booth on 28 November 1893, just 71 days after women's right to vote in general elections in New Zealand became law.

Today, a little further up the South Island, a walk was held in Nelson to encourage people to vote, while in Christchurch a poetry contest was held and political leaders were challenged on how they would make gender equity and pay parity a priority.

Pip Jamieson, one of the organisers of the Nelson march and the Nelson Pay Equity Partnership spokesperson, said the suffrage campaigners collected more than 24,000 signatures, and submitted three petitions to Parliament before they succeeded in gaining women the right to vote.

She said they travelled thousands of miles to get signatures in homes, workplaces, and in the streets, while today, men joined women in the walk down Trafalgar Street to raise awareness of what it took to gain the democratic right to vote.

Suffrage day walk organiser Pip Jamieson (left) and Marie Elliott from the office of the registrar for electors.

Suffrage day walk organiser Pip Jamieson (left) and Marie Elliott from the office of the registrar for electors. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Ms Jamieson was thrilled with the show of support today.

"It's great to see men and women here encouraging people to get out and vote, and to think about gender equality when they vote, but also to make sure they exercise their democratic right, which Kate Sheppard and her friends fought so hard for.

"And now, 100-plus years on, here we go again."

Another Nelson woman at the walk Georgina Roden said she had not been planning to vote, but then learned about the influence Māori women had.

"On this day in 1893 the vote was for all women - 4000 Māori women voted with all the women - so it's a celebration for all women."

Marie Elliott from the Nelson office of the registrar of electors said it was fantastic to see the turnout, but she was sorry that more young women had not been able to make it, because the date clashed with exams at Nelson College for Girls.

She was expecting a busy few days ahead of the election, with a last-minute rush on voter enrolments.

"We have so much stuff out there to let people know, and yet so many will leave it until the last minute to enrol, so we will be working all week and late nights, to get everyone on the roll so their vote counts."

Cindy Batt (Left) and Jan Noonan getting ready to walk in the Suffrage Day march in Nelson today.

Cindy Batt (Left) and Jan Noonan getting ready to walk in the Suffrage Day march in Nelson today. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The day was especially poignant for city councillor Kate Fulton, whose distant ancestor was in regular correspondence with Kate Sheppard and who was involved in gaining women early property rights.

"She had divorced her husband on the grounds of cruelty. She came on an early settler ship with two small children, and later married the ship's doctor. She became an early feminist and advocated for women's property rights.

"Her new husband didn't support the [women's] movement so she met with New Zealand politicians in secret to implore them to give women some rights."

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs