125 Years of Women’s Suffrage

Prue Hyman says you get along to plenty of exhibitions and events which celebrate our pioneer recognition of womens’ right to vote.

Remembering a world famous event

By Prue Hyman

There are many exhibitions and events throughout the country celebrating this important anniversary. And the web gives us access to precious recordings and histories of the brave women who fought for the vote.

Nga Taonga, NZ’s wonderful audiovisual archive has a handful of recordings of the voices of those who voted in the first election where they could in 1893.

The oldest was recorded in 1943 – an interview with Nellie Perryman, (born Ellen Jane Levy in 1868). It can be heard at https://ngataonga.org.nz/set/item/451 with five other such interviews.

The legendary Nellie Perryman

Perryman was a public figure, long-time editor of the White Ribbon and a regular newspaper contributor on women’s issues.

A teacher at Petone School in 1893, she helped gather names for the suffrage petitions. In 1925, she wrote an article and short booklet entitled “How We Won the Franchise in New Zealand.”

 In it were the lines chosen in 1993 to appear on the Kate Sheppard Suffrage Memorial in Christchurch marking the centenary.

We, the mothers of the present, need to impress upon our children’s minds how the women of the past wrestled and fought, suffered and wept, prayed and believed, agonised and won for them the freedom they enjoy today.”

I love that statement – it totally negates the infuriating way women’s suffrage is often put – that New Zealand was the first country to ‘give’ women the vote.

The roles of Maori women in suffrage have sadly had less coverage, although Tania Rei’s 1993 book Maori Woman and the Vote is well worth reading.

Women voting for the first time

They were involved in the mainstream suffrage movement, but also sought to stand as members of the Māori Parliament (Te Kotahitanga). Both these goals were achieved but the Maori Parliament ended in 1902.

Women in the visual arts

Among the upcoming events well worth attention in the Wellington region are a number remedying women’s neglected presence in the visual arts. “Embodied Knowledge” at the Dowse Gallery until 28 October is an exhibition “presenting significant sculptural works made by women artists during a tumultuous period of Aotearoa New Zealand’s art history.

The artists challenged and dissected many aspects of the dominant culture they worked within, from the way language shapes our understanding of the world to environmental concerns.

The term ‘embodied knowledge’ describes knowledge that is unspoken, contingent and situated; that is understood through experiences of living in a specific time, place and cultural context.” It features the work of Christine Hellyar, Maureen Lander, Vivian Lynn, Pauline Rhodes and The Estate of L. Budd. (http://dowse.org.nz/exhibitions/detail/embodied-knowledge ).


Then the Adam Art Gallery at VUW has until 23 September “The earth looks upon us / Ko Papatūānuku te matua o te tangata” with new and existing work by four Māori women artists, Ngahuia Harrison, Ana Iti, Nova Paul, and Raukura Turei. They explore their relation to and cultural connection with whenua/earth/place.

And finally until 4th August Enjoy Gallery has “Margins & Satellites, Ella Sutherland’s ongoing enquiry into the relationship between printed matter, typography and social histories. Some art is great to help me keep sane while dealing with the ongoing political, social, and economic issues that are rightly prominent in highlighting how far there is to go before the feminist movement can claim reasonable success.


No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.