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Early engagement

Kate Sheppard's activism and engagement with politics began after listening to or
reading about a talk by Mary Leavitt from the Woman's Christian Temperance Union
(WCTU) of the United States.[19] In 1885 Leavitt toured New Zealand speaking not
only about the problems caused by alcohol consumption, but also the need for women
to have a "voice in public affairs".[20] She spent two weeks in Christchurch,
starting with a public speech at the Theatre Royal on 10 May.[21] Journalists were
impressed by the strength of public speaking displayed by a woman, something not
witnessed often at that time in New Zealand.[22][23]

Sheppard became involved in establishing a Christchurch branch of the WCTU prior to


the formation of a national organisation.[24][25] Her initial involvement was in
promoting petitions to Parliament to prevent women being employed as barmaids, and
to outlaw the sale of alcohol to children. This marked the beginning of her
collaborations with Alfred Saunders, who advised her on her negotiations with
politicians and who wrote to the Premier, Sir Robert Stout, seeking to further her
campaign. The barmaid petitions (including some from other parts of the country)
were rejected by the Petitions Committee of Parliament later in 1885.[19][26]
Sheppard decided that politicians would continue to ignore petitions from women as
long as women could not vote.[27]

In 1879 universal male suffrage had been granted to all men over the age of 21
whether they owned property or not, but women were still excluded as electors.[28]
[c] A limited number of voting rights were extended to female voters in the 1870s.
Female ratepayers were able to vote in local body elections in 1873, and in 1877
women "householders" were given the right to vote in and stand for education
boards.[29][d]

The New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union was formed at a conference in
Wellington in February 1886. Sheppard did not attend that conference, but at the
second national convention in Christchurch a year later, she arrived ready to
present a paper on women's suffrage, although there was no opportunity for her to
do so. She was first appointed Superintendent for Relative Statistics, owing to her
interest in economics.[30] In 1887�when local Franchise departments were
established within the WCTU�she was appointed National Superintendent for the
Franchise and Legislation.[5][31]

Much of the support for moderation came from women, and the Temperance Union
believed that women's suffrage could advance their aim to prohibit alcohol while
promoting child and family welfare.[32] Sheppard soon became prominent in the area
of women's suffrage, but her interest in the cause went beyond practical
considerations regarding temperance. Her views were made well known with her
statement that "all that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is
inhuman, and must be overcome".[33] Sheppard proved to be a powerful speaker and a
skilled organiser, quickly building support for her cause.[5]

Sir Julius Vogel, Member of Parliament for Christchurch North and former Premier,
introduced a Female Suffrage Bill to Parliament in 1887.
The WCTU sent a deputation to Sir Julius Vogel, a Member of Parliament and former
Premier, asking him to introduce a suffrage bill to parliament.[34] He did so in
1887, with the Female Suffrage Bill, and Sheppard campaigned for its support.[33]
In its third reading, the part dealing with women's suffrage was defeated by one
vote, and the bill was withdrawn.[35][36][37] During the general election campaign
later that year Sheppard encouraged WCTU members to ask parliamentary candidates
questions about suffrage, but few women did so.[38]

In 1888 Sheppard was President of the Christchurch branch of the WCTU, and
presented a report to the national convention in Dunedin, where the convention
decided that prohibition and women's suffrage would be the organisation's central
aims. Sheppard made public speeches on suffrage in Dunedin, Oamaru, and
Christchurch, developing a confident speaking style. To reinforce her message, she
gave audiences leaflets produced in Britain and the United States.[39] Sheppard
then published her own single-sheet pamphlet titled Ten Reasons Why the Women of
New Zealand Should Vote, which displayed her "dry wit and logical approach".[8][40]
A copy was sent to every member of the House of Representatives.[41]

Petitions
The government introduced an Electoral Bill in 1888 that would continue to exclude
women from suffrage, and Sheppard organised a petition requesting that the
exclusion be removed. She wrote to, and later met with, Sir John Hall, a well-
respected Canterbury member of the House of Representatives, inviting him to
present the petition and support her cause. He did so, but no action resulted.
Sheppard then produced a second pamphlet, Should Women Vote?, which presented
statements on suffrage from notable people in New Zealand and overseas.[42] The
Electoral Bill was delayed until 1890, when on 5 August, Hall proposed a motion
"That in the opinion of the House, the right of voting for members of the House of
Representatives should be extended to women." After vigorous debate, this was
passed 37 votes to 11.[43][44] On 21 August, Hall moved an amendment to the
Electoral Bill to give women suffrage, but it was defeated by seven votes.[45][46]
[47]

Following the defeat, Hall suggested to Sheppard that a petition to parliament


should be the next step. She drew up the wording for the petition, arranged for the
forms to be printed, and campaigned hard for its support. During the 1890 election
campaign, WCTU members attempted to ask all candidates about their position on
women's suffrage.[48] The petition contained 10,085 signatures (according to WCTU
minutes), and Hall presented it to Parliament in 1891 as a new Electoral Bill went
into committee.[49][50] The petition was supported in Parliament by Hall, Alfred
Saunders, and the Premier at the time, John Ballance. Hall moved an amendment to
the Electoral Bill to give women suffrage; it passed with a majority of 25 votes.
An opponent of suffrage, Walter Carncross, then moved an amendment which would also
allow women to stand for parliament; this seemed a logical extension of Hall's
amendment but was actually calculated to cause the Bill's failure in New Zealand's
upper house, the New Zealand Legislative Council. The Bill indeed failed in the
Upper House by two votes.[51]

Illustrated comic of the Auckland Franchise League lining up outside the Premier's
office. Published in The Observer in 1893.
In 1890, Sheppard was one of the founders of the Christian Ethical Society, a
discussion group for both men and women, not limited to the members of a single
church.[52] In their first few meetings the topics included selfishness, conjugal
relations, and dress reform. The Society gave Sheppard more confidence debating her
ideas with people from diverse backgrounds.[53] During 1891, Sheppard began editing
a page in the Prohibitionist on behalf of the WCTU. The Prohibitionist was a
fortnightly temperance paper with a circulation around New Zealand of over 20,000.
Sheppard used the pseudonym "Penelope" in this paper.[54][55]

Sheppard promised that a second petition would be twice as large and worked through
the summer to organise it; it received 20,274 women's signatures.[49] Using paid
canvassers, the Liberal MP Henry Fish organised two counter petitions, one signed
by men and the other by women; they received 5,000 signatures between them.[56] An
Electoral Bill in 1892 included provision for women's suffrage and again it easily
passed in the House of Representatives, but the Upper House requested that women's
votes be postal rather than by ballot. As the two houses could not agree on this,
the bill failed.[57]
The first page of the successful 1893 Women's Suffrage Petition
A third petition for suffrage, still larger, was organised by Sheppard and
presented in 1893. This time 31,872 women signed�the largest petition of any kind
presented to Parliament at this point.[58][59]

1893 Electoral Bill


The Electoral Bill of 1893, which granted women full voting rights, successfully
passed in the House of Representatives in August. Few MPs were willing to vote
against it, fearing that women would vote against them in the general election
later that year. Many therefore chose to be absent from the house during votes.
Henry Fish attempted to delay the proposed statute by calling for a national
referendum,[60] but the Bill progressed to the Legislative Council. After several
attempts to stymie passage failed, the legislation passed 20 votes to 18 on 8
September.[61] The Bill now needed the Governor's signature, and although Governor
David Boyle did not support women's suffrage and was slow to sign, he eventually
did so on 19 September.[62] Sheppard was widely acknowledged as the leader of the
women's suffrage movement.[5][63]