One event stood above all others in this year: the enacting of the law that allowed women to vote.

The historic importance of this was recognised at the time by the Herald which, despite having some reservations, declared it was an honour for New Zealand to be the first country to make the "experiment" that had been talked about for so long.

Most of the credit went to the conservative politician and former Premier Sir John Hall who had actively supported women's suffrage for years. "The zeal with which he advocated woman franchise, and which was finally brought about largely by his persistent efforts, is a striking example of the guiding principles of his life," said an obituary in the Herald when he died in 1907.

The Herald described him as the Nestor - or wise old man - of New Zealand politics and would surely have made him New Zealander of the Year.


There is no doubt Hall deserved great praise for his efforts and when the national Kate Sheppard memorial was erected to commemorate the centennial of the women's suffrage law, his was the only male name inscribed on it. And yet he knew his efforts were not enough to win the day; women had to stand up and demand the vote to make it a political issue that could not be brushed aside.

Sheppard, of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, was the guiding light, organising force and inspiration for women to do just that through a series of petitions to Parliament which gathered more and more signatures every year until their cause could no longer be ignored.

"This gathering momentum provided the evidence necessary to maintain pressure on the ministry to give votes for women a high priority," wrote Hall's biographer Jean Garner in By His Own Merits.

"By 1893, the total of 31,872 signatures represented nearly one quarter of the adult women in the colony. This petition was the largest gathered in Australasia to that date."
The suffrage bill passed that September, giving just enough time for women to register and vote in the general election 10 weeks later.

Sheppard's excitement at victory came through in an article she wrote for the Prohibitionist magazine.

"The news is being flashed far and wide," she said, "and before our Earth has revolved on its axis every civilised community within reach of the electric wires will have received the tidings that civic freedom has been granted to the women of New Zealand."

But the work was a long way from over. Women may have been allowed to vote in 1893 but they did not win the right to stand for Parliament until 1919 and faced struggles on many other fronts. Sheppard remained an active feminist for the rest of her life campaigning for equal pay, better education and Parliamentary reform.

"She was an advanced thinker for her time, a woman who believed in confronting issues," writes Judith Devaliant in her biography Kate Sheppard: The Fight for Women's Votes in New Zealand.

When she died in 1934 an obituary said: "A great woman has gone, whose name will remain an inspiration to the daughters of New Zealand while our history endures."

With hindsight, then, Kate Sheppard is our New Zealander of the Year for 1893.