Monday, June 24, 2013

Women in History: Kate Sheppard

Did you know that the first country to give women the right to vote was New Zealand?  It was.  In 1893.  Did you know that the Kiwi ladies had the right to vote 27 years before women in the United States?  They totes did.  Mostly, thanks to this bodacious babe, Kate Sheppard. 

Catherine Wilson Malcolm was born in England in 1847, received a great education, and was known to be intelligent.  She preferred to be known as Katherine or Kate.  For a while during her youth, she lived with her minister uncle.  Her uncle and mother had a lot of influence on Kate’s religious beliefs.  In 1869, Kate’s father passed away and her family immigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand where Kate met and married Walter Sheppard.

In 1885, Kate became involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union based on her religious beliefs.  The goal of the temperance movement was to reduce or prohibit the consumption of alcohol.  When the group realized that majority of the supporters of the temperance movement were women, the Temperance Union became more involved in the women’s suffrage movement.  Kate quickly became prominent in the movement.  She was a proficient public speaker and once stated “all that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome.”

The Temperance Union first presented their petition in support of women’s suffrage in 1891.  It was supported by several members of Parliament, but no law was passed.  A second, larger petition was presented in 1892, but still no law was passed.  In 1893, the third petition for women’s suffrage was presented to Parliament.  That year, a bill giving women the right to vote was successfully passed and women in New Zealand were granted full voting rights.  Even though the bill was last minute (ten weeks until the election), Kate and the members of the Temperance Union worked tirelessly to register women voters.  Nearly two-thirds of women in New Zealand cast votes that year. 

After the victory for women’s suffrage, Kate traveled back to England as an advocate of women’s rights and was elected President of the National Council of Women in New Zealand.  In the early 1900s, Kate’s health began deteriorating, and she stepped down form the council.  She continued to travel and advocate for women’s rights in the United States, Canada, and Britain.  Kate passed away in Christchurch in 1934.  She is commemorated on New Zealand’s ten dollar bill. 


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