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120 years on from the vote: a letter from Kate Sheppard

120 years on from the vote: a letter from Kate Sheppard

by Kirsten MacFarlane - Thursday, 19 September 2013

As New Zealand celebrates 120 years of women gaining the vote, a letter from suffrage leader Kate Sheppard to fellow campaigner Amey Daldy sheds new light on their crusade and strong bond of friendship.

Excerpt from Kate Sheppard's handwritten letter to Amey Daldy, 1904.

© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira

While on the campaign trail in London, suffrage campaigner Kate Sheppard wrote a lengthy letter to Amey Daldy, a noted women’s rights and social justice campaigner.  It was 1904, a decade after women gained the vote in New Zealand, but in Britain the fight for women’s voting rights was still raging. In her sprawling cursive handwriting, Kate urges Auckland-based Amey to stay true to the cause, and muses on a future where women will have the same rights as men. The letter is one of many documents held in the Amey Daldy collection at Auckland Museum Library.A woman of radical views for her age and time, Amey Daldy campaigned fervently and fearlessly for women’s rights and for social justice.  She was president of the Women’s Franchise League, Auckland branch (1893) and National Council of Women of New Zealand (1898).  After women won enfranchisement in September 1893, she played a key role in getting women to record their vote in the November election.

Shortly before the polling booths opened, she sent the public a reminder: “Let not babies, the wash-tub, or even dinners prevent the women going.” To that end, Amey arranged for women to care for children at each booth while their mothers voted.

In her March 1904 letter, Kate Sheppard offers words of comfort to Amey, who was grieving the death of her husband Captain William Crush Daldy. Kate, who was also a close friend of Captain Daldy, says she can “well understand” Amey’s loneliness, but…“Dear friend do not think me unsympathetic if I say to you that you are wanted here for a while. There is work to be done and so few to do it.”

At the time, Amey was still an active member of the National Council of Women, and Kate unashamedly uses the Captain’s backing of women’s rights as a bargaining chip. “The Captain would highly approve—he always urged you on.”

Kate also details the latest news from London, the dreary weather and a busy schedule of meetings and debates.

“There is to be a Women’s Franchise debate and a discussion and debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday”. Despite her doctor’s orders for “absolute rest”, the ever resilient Kate is still hopeful of attending the Berlin Congress in June.

It’s only when Kate ponders the state of women’s inequalities, do we get a sense of grand vision.

“I do wish that we could see women’s artificial disabilities removed, so that she should stand in the sight of the law, equal in every way to her brother. I feel if this could be gained – half the need for a Women’s Council would be gone. The men and women would then meet together to plan and legislate as I am sure the Creator intended they should.”

Sadly Amey was forced to retire from public life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 1905, which left her unable to speak or walk. She died in Auckland on 17 August 1920, aged 91 years.

The Amey Daldy collection was donated by Mrs Barbara Holt in 1962.

Women at the polls

On 19 September 1893 the governor, Lord Glasgow, signed a new Electoral Act into law. As a result of this landmark legislation, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Women went to the polls just 10 weeks after the historical event.

Around 80 per cent of the adult female population (109,461 women) had enrolled to vote.  On polling day 90,290 of them cast their votes, a turnout of 82 per cent (far higher than the 70 per cent turnout among registered male voters). Although there were then no electoral rolls for the Māori seats, women cast perhaps 4000 of the 11,269 Māori votes that year.

Despite ominous warnings by diehard suffrage opponents that delicate female voters would be harassed and jostled, the conduct of the election was peaceful and orderly throughout the country.

  • Post by: Kirsten MacFarlane

    Kirsten MacFarlane is a part-time editor and writer for Auckland Museum. She also edits and writes feature articles for various publications.

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