Sunday, February 10, 2008

Katharine Sheppard

(1848 - 1934)

This pioneering woman was responsible for achieving the first vote for women.

Katharine was a woman of great charm, inflexible determination and a sound administrative ability. When the New Zealand branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was started by the American, Mary Leavitt (1185) during her worldwide campaign, Katharine was appointed Superintendent of the Franchise Department, responsible for organising Franchise Departments throughout New Zealand.

When the Parliamentary program for the coming session (1888) included a new Electoral Act, Katharine developed and submitted a petition from the WCTU asking for women to be included. For the next few years the debate and struggle for the womens' vote ebbed and flowed within the House of Representatives, with the WCTU pressure group nudging MP's (members of parliament) along. A petition containing 100085 women's signatures was collected (1891) from WCTU areas and sent to both the House of Representatives and the Legislative Council.

More delays provoked a telegram from Katharine to the Legislative Council. However, at the Senate Reading, the Bill was rejected. A fresh petition containing 20774 signatures was presented (1892) - a counter-petition was organised by the Liquor trade was also submitted. But, by year's end, and despite further Readings, there was still no vote for women.

Before the next Parliamentary Session (1893) the WCTU worked feverishly, visiting remote areas, holding meetings and collecting signatures till yet another petition, signed by a third of New Zealand women (31872) was submitted. By a majority vote, the Bill was passed (8/9/1893) by the Upper House - on the Third and final Reading.

But there still remained the Governor's signature. The Opposition sent the Governor a petition; Katharine wrote to himmon behalf of all women, and she received a telegram (19/9/1893) - the Governor agreed to the Bill. New Zealand women had the vote! They were soon followed by South Australia (1894), Western Australia (1899) and by all Australia (1902).

The women's vote was achieved worldwide:
Austria (1918), Belgium (1919), Brazil (1932), Bulgaria (1947), Canada (1918), China (1947), Denmark (1915), Finland (1906), France (1944), German Fed. Republic (1918), UK (1919), Holland (1919), India (1926) - but provincial vote only, Indonesia (1955), Iran (1963), Ireland (1919), Israel (1948), Italy (1945), Japan (1945), Jordan (1973), Norway (1913), Pakistan (1926), Philippines (1937), Poland (1918), South Africa (1930), Spain (1931), Sweden (1913), Switzerland (1971), Thailand (1932), Turkey (1933), USA (1920), USSR (1971) and Yugoslavia (1945).

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