From Sheppard to now – 125 years of celebration for women’s rights

Maggie-Lee Huckabee

Today is the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. reporter Sophie Cornish looks into the events which led to the breakthrough in women’s rights

About 125 years ago, Kate Sheppard gathered sheets of petition paper, pasted them together and rolled them around a broom handle.

The document, which became known as the monster petition, gained more than 25,000 signatures and led New Zealand to becoming the first self-governing country in the world to give women the vote.

Next Wednesday marks the 125th anniversary of when Sheppard submitted 13 petitions to the House of Representatives in 1893. Member of Parliament and suffrage supporter Sir John Hall took the monster petition into the House and unrolled it down the central aisle of the debating chamber.

It is said to have hit wall, making a thudding noise.

›Then on September 19, the Electoral Act 1893 was passed after being signed by Governor David Boyle, giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

Less than two months later more than 109,000 women enrolled to vote in the 1893 election.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union along with Sheppard had campaigned for the right to vote since the mid-1880s.

Women travelled long distances to hear lectures, speeches, attend meetings and sign petitions.

But entrenched views of male domination, media backlash and counter-petitions are said to have slowed the process.

Sheppard, formerly known as Katherine Wilson Malcolm was born in Liverpool and arrived in Lyttelton in 1869 on the Matoaka ship. In 1871, she married Walter Sheppard, a grocer, merchant and city councillor in 1868. The pair lived with their one son, Douglas in the home they build, which still stands, on Clyde Rd.

Mr Hall went on to be appointed mayor of Christchurch from 1906 to 1907 for the New Zealand International Exhibition in Hagley park.

The Women of Influence Awards will be held in Auckland next Tuesday. Reporter Sophie Cornish spoke to three of six women nominated from Christchurch about their achievements and women’s rights

Maggie-Lee Huckabee:

A brain injury when she was 21, led Canterbury University professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee to begin her ground-breaking research in rehabilitation science.

The Professor of Communication Disorders said “everything became quite clear” following the injury, which left her with seizures and memory loss.

She wanted to go back and figure out “how you can fix brains when they are broken.”

Her research is saving district health boards million of dollars every year, including more than $1 million annually for the Canterbury District Health Board.

Prof Huckabee was nominated for the awards in the innovation and science category.

The nomination made Prof Huckabee feel a little embarrassed, humbled and appreciated. She said her great-grandmother was a woman of influence to her.

“She had been blind for 60 years and lived pretty independently . . . when I was a child she was just fabulous, she was 100 when I was 10, and I use to spend a lot of time with her.”

Her great-grandmother’s perseverance encouraged Prof Huckabee to want to help people with disabilities.

Eleanor Bodger:

Director of Eldernet and Care Publications Eleanor Bodger is fighting back against ageism.

She was nominated in the business enterprise category.

Ms Bodger believes a woman of influence is someone “who is prepared to stand up and be counted.”

Eleanor Bodger

“Addressing issues such as ageism is one of these . . . Women often felt quite invisible and now they are ageing, they feel double-invisible. These are big issues for women.”

Her company was ground-breaking in its field when it began in 1997.

Ms Bodger saw a need for a comprehensive information service which focused on issues facing older people in New Zealand. It provides information which covers health issues to possible retirement home options. Her team spends time looking for information and services available for older people.

Julia Rucklidge:

Canterbury University Professor Julia Rucklidge has experienced what it feels like to be in the minority because of her gender.

The Women of Influence nominee grew up with three brothers and always excelled in subjects of maths and science.

Julia Rucklidge

“Going through high school there were one or two female students who were good in the top programmes, most were male.”

Now, as a Professor of Clinical Psychology, she said though being a minority in her field helped her work harder, it shouldn’t be that way for all women.

“When you are a minority you feel like you not only have to be as good, but better . . . That pressure shouldn’t be on women, it shouldn’t exist. Women are no less deserving to be in an elite group and shouldn’t have to prove themselves.”

Prof Rucklidge said the university now provides better opportunities for women to learn more about leadership.

“There has been a huge change in the environment relative to when I was first here. When I became a professor, I was only the third female professor in our department, but now we have had three or four more since then.”


•Women’s Suffrage Anniversary Celebration with guest speaker Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Today, 4pm, Isaac Theatre Royal.

•Kate Sheppard Celebration Tour. Saturday, 9.45am-1pm, Canterbury Workers’ Education Association, 159 Gloucester St.

•Celebrating 125 years of suffrage with Canterbury University’s FemSoc and the Christchurch branch of the National Council of Women. Wednesday, noon-12.30pm, Kate Sheppard Memorial, 159 Oxford Tce.

•Speakers and afternoon tea to discuss women’s rights. Wednesday, 2pm, Canterbury University Undercroft