Mary Carpenter
Women's suffrage supporter

The first person to sign the suffrage petition of 1893

Mary Jane Carpenter was the first person to sign the massive women's petition of 1893 calling for New Zealand women to be given the vote.

Advocates of votes for women gathered women's signatures from around the country on 546 pages that were glued together, top to bottom, in a continuous roll.

The roll was presented to Parliament in August 1893 as the petition of "Mary J Carpenter and 25,519 others". Smaller petitions brought the total to nearly 32,000 - almost a quarter of the adult European female population of New Zealand.

The signature of Carpenter's mother, Mary Griffiths, of Upper Riccarton in Christchurch, has been identified on the same petition, on page 227.

A photo of George and Mary Carpenter with their seven children.
A photo of George and Mary Carpenter with their seven children.

The campaign had begun a decade earlier. It gained momentum through petitions - some of which included men - lobbying, pamphlets, meetings, mass rallies and a series of bills in Parliament before the historic victory of 1893.

On the big petition, Carpenter gave her address as Yaldhurst, on the western outskirts of Christchurch, as did the second signatory, Annie Gilberthorpe. They were followed by a number of women from Hornby, Templeton and Riccarton, all on the city's west.

Carpenter, born in England, arrived in New Zealand as a 20-year-old with her family in 1870. The daughter of boilermaker John Griffiths, her occupation was listed as domestic servant.

A year later she married George Carpenter - whose previous wife had died - and they had nine children.

Most of the names from the large petition have been published online by Archives NZ and can be searched here.