New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Women in New Zealand, including Maori women, gained voting rights following a strong suffrage movement, an absence of entrenched conservative forces, growth in female education, women’s entry into paid employment, and a favorable political climate after a long depression. New Zealand women became the first women of any nation to gain suffrage rights and to vote in national elections.

Summary of Event

In 1879, the government of New Zealand granted suffrage to all men; however, most women were not allowed to vote, even at the local level. From 1867 to 1875, only women ratepayers (taxpayers) could vote in municipal elections. In 1877, that right was somewhat extended when women householders were given the right to vote and to stand for school committees and educational boards. New Zealand;woman suffrage Woman suffrage;New Zealand Maoris British Empire;and New Zealand[New Zealand] Voting rights;in New Zealand[New Zealand] [kw]New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights (Sept. 19, 1893) [kw]Women Win Voting Rights, New Zealand (Sept. 19, 1893) [kw]Win Voting Rights, New Zealand Women (Sept. 19, 1893) [kw]Voting Rights, New Zealand Women Win (Sept. 19, 1893) [kw]Rights, New Zealand Women Win Voting (Sept. 19, 1893) New Zealand;woman suffrage Woman suffrage;New Zealand Maoris British Empire;and New Zealand[New Zealand] Voting rights;in New Zealand[New Zealand] [g]Polynesia;Sept. 19, 1893: New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights[5870] [g]British Empire;Sept. 19, 1893: New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights[5870] [g]New Zealand;Sept. 19, 1893: New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights[5870] [c]Government and politics;Sept. 19, 1893: New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights[5870] [c]Women’s issues;Sept. 19, 1893: New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights[5870] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Sept. 19, 1893: New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights[5870] [c]Organizations and institutions;Sept. 19, 1893: New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights[5870] [c]Social issues and reform;Sept. 19, 1893: New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights[5870] Sheppard, Kate Leavitt, Mary Mangakahia, Meri Te Tai Müller, Mary Ann Wollstonecraft, Mary Mill, Harriet Taylor Seddon, Richard John

As a former British colony, New Zealand derived its political system from British law. Similarly, women ratepayers in Great Britain could stand for and vote only in elections for local school boards since 1870, while suffrage was granted to male adults aged twenty-one and older. Women did not fare any better in Australia, another former British colony, even though the state of South Australia Voting rights;in Australia[Australia] became the first in the world to adopt adult male suffrage in 1856. (Three more Australian states followed suit in 1860.) Starting their suffrage movement during the late 1880’s, New Zealand women achieved their goal with the last petition in 1893.

The first New Zealand advocate of women’s rights and suffrage was British-born feminist writer Mary Ann Müller Müller, Mary Ann . Because her husband disapproved of her feminist views, she wrote under the nom de plume Femina. Her pamphlet, An Appeal to the Men of New Zealand (1869), attacked old customs and prejudices and advocated voting rights for women. The article was praised by British philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill Mill, John Stuart [p]Mill, John Stuart;and woman suffrage[Woman suffrage] , whose The Subjection of Women (1861) supported woman suffrage. Other British political radicals who inspired New Zealand suffragists included Harriet Taylor Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft. Wollstonecraft, Mary Mill, Harriet Taylor Harriet Taylor Mill, married to John Stuart Mill, wrote “Enfranchisement of Women,” which had been published in 1851 in the Westminster Review Westminster Review . Wollstonecraft made the case for woman suffrage with her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.

A number of New Zealand politicians were sympathetic with women’s demand for the national-election vote. Before 1885, voting advocates had introduced electoral bills that included clauses to enfranchise women ratepayers and, eventually, all women. However, these attempts at legislation failed to pass either the New Zealand house of representatives or the conservative upper house, the legislative council.

Women in New Zealand did not have an organized voice for voting rights until the founding of the New Zealand Women’s Christian Women’s Christian Temperance Union[Womens Christian Temperance Union];in New Zealand[New Zealand] Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1885. Mary Leavitt Leavitt, Mary , an American WCTU member, introduced the temperance movement to New Zealand and then to Australia one year later. Temperance societies were formed, both in New Zealand and the Old World, to fight social problems. The 1880’s saw New Zealand enter a period of economic depression and poverty, sexual license, and general disorder. Alcoholism negatively affected women and the financial security of their families. Some groups in the WCTU devoted themselves to charitable activities such as running soup kitchens and night shelters and helping people in hospitals and prisons. Other political groups campaigned for equal divorce Divorce laws, the raising of the age of consent (twelve at that time), preschool education, and women’s suffrage. Kate Sheppard Sheppard, Kate proved to be another critical leader in the suffrage movement. She strongly believed that New Zealand women should get the vote first before they could obtain protective legislation for women and children.

After 1890, the WCTU had broadened the base of its movement and presented petitions to Parliament, including the 1891 petition, which had been signed by nine thousand women. The electoral bill for women’s suffrage passed the lower house but was defeated by the upper house. Another petition with twenty thousand signatures was presented to Parliament in 1892. The liquor industry, which opposed women’s suffrage because once granted, women would use the vote to prohibit alcohol, began circulating its own antisuffrage petitions in public houses. The Roman Catholic Church also objected to more rights for women, and other conservative institutions and groups considered woman suffrage a threat to traditional life and values. Even Prime Minister Richard John Seddon Seddon, Richard John , who was on the liquor-trade side, opposed woman suffrage.

In 1893 the WCTU Women’s Christian Temperance Union[Womens Christian Temperance Union];in New Zealand[New Zealand] gathered nearly thirty-two thousand signatures—almost one quarter of the adult women in New Zealand—to accompany what had been the largest petition of its kind in New Zealand and other Western countries up to that time. The petition was sent to Parliament, and it passed the lower house. Once again the liquor industry petitioned the upper house to reject it. Because the legislative council was almost evenly divided on the bill, Prime Minister Seddon realized he would need one more opposition vote to defeat it. He tried to persuade one councilor to change his supporting vote. Two opposition councilors, however, reacted to Seddon’s Seddon, Richard John tactics by changing sides and voting in favor. The bill passed 20-18 on September 8 and was sent to the governor, Lord Glasgow, for his consent.

Antisuffrage petitions again were circulated, and some opposition councilors urged the governor not to sign the bill into law. Lord Glasgow, however, signed the bill on September 19, and the bill became the Electoral Act of 1893. New Zealand women won voting rights just ten weeks before the next national election. The suffrage act included the voting rights of Maori women as well. Led by suffragist Meri Te Tai Mangakahia Mangakahia, Meri Te Tai , Maori women demanded inclusion in the act, and they won the same rights as non-Maori women.

The woman suffrage movement achieved its goal in about eight years. Kate Sheppard’s Sheppard, Kate leadership undoubtedly helped bring about its success. (Her political advocacy on behalf of women’s rights has been acknowledged with her image on New Zealand’s ten-dollar note.) The movement succeeded also because of the growth of female education and because of women’s entry into paid employment. Women’s advances into many traditionally male occupations made women’s political exclusion even more unjust and illogical. Furthermore, an absence of entrenched conservative forces in pioneering New Zealand, as well as the liberal political climate after the economic depression, in which the country was ready to accept new ideas and radical reform, also helped the cause.


Woman suffrage was a major advance toward equality in citizenship for women in New Zealand. The movement and the electoral act served as shining examples to women around the world who had been struggling for emancipation from their legal and social subjection. Australia was the next country to follow New Zealand in granting voting rights for women. The state of South Australia Australia;woman suffrage Woman suffrage;in Australia[Australia] enfranchised women in 1894, and the state of Western Australia did so in 1899. Australian women won the national vote in 1902.

Britain Woman suffrage;in Great Britain[Great Britain] did not grant women the right to vote in local elections until it enacted the Local Government Act of 1894 Local Government Act of 1894 , which gave voting rights to married women. British and American women’s active participation in World War I also helped change public attitudes toward women’s political enfranchisement. The Twentieth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920, secured women’s suffrage in the United States. British women age thirty and older won the vote in 1918, and, by 1928, all women of voting age could vote. Two other countries, Finland Finland;woman suffrage in 1906 and Norway Norway;woman suffrage in 1913, granted women suffrage prior to World War I.

In 1919, the Women’s Parliamentary Rights Act was passed by the New Zealand parliament. This monumental law made all New Zealand women eligible for election to the national parliament.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Arneil, Barbara. Politics and Feminism. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. A comprehensive review of the major currents in Western feminism. Recommended as a companion text for courses in feminism, feminist theory, or Western political thought.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Jean H., ed. Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. A collection examining the struggle of American women for suffrage rights. Essential reading for studies in American politics and in women’s political participation specifically.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dubois, Ellen C. Women Suffrage and Women’s Rights. New York: New York University Press, 1998. A collection that provides an excellent review of the woman suffrage movement, including international and American suffrage in the context of women’s broader concerns for social and political justice.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grimshaw, Patricia. Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand. 2d ed. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press, 1987. Comprehensive account that describes the contributions of Maori women to achieve voting rights for both Maoris and all women in New Zealand.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marshall, Susan E. Splintered Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Campaign Against Women Suffrage. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997. Analyzes the often violent style of antisuffrage protest.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rei, Tania. Maori Women and the Vote. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia, 1993. Excellent overview of Maori women’s political activity, published for the suffrage centennial. Features a portrait of Mangakahia on the cover.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walter, Lynn, ed. Women’s Rights: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Case studies exploring the problems surrounding the fight for women’s rights in different countries. A cross-cultural study in attitudes toward women and efforts to provide women the same rights as men.

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National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Meri Te Tai Mangakahia; Richard John Seddon; Sir Julius Vogel; Frances Willard. New Zealand;woman suffrage Woman suffrage;New Zealand Maoris British Empire;and New Zealand[New Zealand] Voting rights;in New Zealand[New Zealand]

Categories: History