In the 1890s, Māori women seeking the vote fought on two separate fronts; nationally for the New Zealand parliament, and also within Kotahitanga Māori parliament. Many Māori women dedicated themselves to their retaining ancestral lands and sought political power to aid their aims. Between 1886 and 1896, forty petitions around land issues were presented to the New Zealand parliament, signed by Māori women on behalf of themselves or their Iwi..
Historian Tania Rei notes that the Māori women who signed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) petition appeared to all have pākeha connections. During the 1890s, a number of Māori women worked with both the WCTU and Kotahitanga.
Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia was an eloquent speaker with excellent organisational flair. In 1893 she helped establish Ngā Kōmiti Wāhine, committees connected to kotahitanga that discussed issues such as family violence, smoking and retaining traditional Māori skills. She co-authored the significant Māori newspaper column Te Reiri Karamu (‘The Ladies’ Column’) in the Te Tiupiri (The Jubilee.)
Mangakāhia advocated for Māori women gaining the vote in Kotahintanga, which they eventually did in 1897. Mangakāhia’s connections to the WCTU are unclear, but the organisation’s initials were engraved into her beautiful wooden chest or “parliamentary cabinet”.
Here’s a transcript of her 1893 address to kotahitanga.
“I move this motion before the principle member and all honourable members so that a law may emerge from this parliament allowing women to vote and women to be accepted as members of the parliament.
Following are my reasons for presenting this motion that women may receive the vote and that there be women members:
There are many women who have been widowed and own much land.
There are many women whose fathers have died and do not have brothers.
There are many women who are knowledgeable of the management of land where their husbands are not.
There are many women whose fathers are elderly, who are also knowledgeable of the management of land and own land.
There have been many male leaders who have petitioned the Queen concerning the many issues that affect us all, however, we have not yet been adequately compensated according to those petitions. Therefore I pray to this gathering that women members be appointed. Perhaps by this course of action we may be satisfied concerning the many issues affecting us and our land. Perhaps the Queen may listen to the petitions if they are presented by her Māori sisters, since she is a woman as well.”
Sadly, considering how influential she was, little information is known about Mangakāhia. As her great-grandniece Emma Frost recently noted in an interview, “Māori women who shaped our nation were very invisible. There wasn’t a lot written about them.”
This year, with Radio NZ coverage, promotion from Members of Parliament and a feature at the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Are We There Yet? exhibit, it seems we are moving towards Mangakāhia finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Tania Rei, Māori Women and the Vote (1993, ) p.13 .
Rei, pp.39-40, 47.
‘Meri Mangakāhia addresses the Kotahitanga Māori parliament’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/meri-mangak%C4%81hia-addresses-kotahitanga-m%C4%81ori-parliament, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 24-Jul-2018
Mana : the Maori news magazine for all New Zealanders, Dec 2007/Jan 2008; n.79: p.76.
Adapted from a translation by Charles Royal in Charlotte Macdonald, Merimeri Penfold and Bridget Williams (eds), The book of New Zealand women Ko kui ma te kaupapa, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1991, p. 413.
Schools are a focal point for the history of communities — the past and present are bound together by the educational institutions that transmit knowledge between generations. Schools often play important and formative roles in historical movements and in the lives of important New Zealanders. Wellington Girls’ College (known as Wellington Girls’ High School until 1905) is one such hub of activity in our Wellington community.
In the late 19th century, a number of individuals connected with Wellington Girls’ College signed the 1893 suffrage petition, which directly preceded women gaining the vote in New Zealand. Three of these women are profiled below in this article. Their passion for their chosen vocation, their skill and influence on those around them is plain to see. With Suffrage Day on September 19th it is crucial to remember those women and the taonga of life stories.
Maria Elsie Allman Marchant
Above is a studio group portrait of Form VI, Wellington Girls College. Back row standing: Ada F Carrol. Amy Meek. Ethel Maud Wilson. Mary Grubb. Jessie Nairn. Seated from left: Margaret Paterone. Harriet Day. Ella Marchant. Georgina Stack. Photographed by Connolly and Herrmann (Wellington) in 1887.
Maria Elsie Allman Marchant, known as Ella, was a talented and extremely capable pupil of Wellington Girls College. In 1887, she became the dux of her school. Just a few years later, Marchant returned to Wellington Girls College as a teacher whilst also studying extramurally towards a BA and an MA from Canterbury University. In 1893, an ‘E A. Marchant’ signed the suffrage petition, making clear her commitment to extending suffrage to all New Zealanders.
Marchant went onto become the Principal of Otago Girls’ High School where she took an independent and insightful approach on a range of issues (which sometimes brought her into conflict with the board of governors). She had a strong conviction to do the best for her girls. On Saturday nights, the boarders would gather at Marchant’s home to read from her well stocked bookshelf — they especially enjoyed her copies of Charles Dickens. Her untimely death in 1917 curtailed her plans to establish a religious teaching order in Dunedin. The Evening Post noted that Marchant was “an eloquent speaker, and from her wide experience and knowledge often charmed and delighted audiences.”
Louisa Marion Herrmann
In the photograph of Marchant above, it is important to note not just the individuals present, but also the photography business involved in the image. Louisa Marion Herrmann arrived from the UK in New Zealand aboard the Piako in 1880. Louisa worked in Wellington as an assistant for Herrmann photography studio on Lambton Quay. She went onto marry Richard Herrmann, one of her employers. After his death in 1892, she took sole charge of the business, and for 16 years she ran the photographic studio, now based on Cuba Street, and employed many workers. Herrmann’s business was described as “the most up-to-date and complete studio in the colonies.”
During this time, Herrmann became an advocate for suffrage by signing the 1893 petition. On her retirement, Herrmann offered for sale 35,000 photographic negatives of New Zealanders. Tragically, we no longer know where these are — at least for now, these images, and their stories, are lost. As Te Papa staffer Lissa Mitchell recently noted, “it is a sad reflection on New Zealand’s historical record that Louisa’s story of self-determination and resilience and her photographic work have been lost, and a strong reminder of the need to keep including the work and stories of women in our histories.”
Mary Jane McLean
Mary Jane McLean was one of New Zealand’s most significant educationists. Especially later in life, she was a prominent advocate for women’s rights. She signed the 1893 petition and went onto become Principal of Wellington Girls’ College in 1900.
McLean was an experienced teacher, but she had to face tough international competition to attain her role. She immediately took an independent approach, making her mark on the school, where her legacies continue to this day. McLean directed Wellington Girls’ College as it expanded from a small school for a wealthy elite into a modern institution with a roll of 850. As the roll swelled, McLean helped establish Wellington East Girls’ College in 1926.
In 1929, after her retirement from education, McLean founded the Women’s Social Progress Movement which campaigned for women’s representation and provided aid and relief during the Depression in the early 1930s. McLean demonstrated a lifelong passionate commitment to improving the position of women, and Wellington remained McLean’s home till she passed away in 1946. Today, the year 13 Wellington Girls’ College prize for first in physical education is named after McLean.
Marchant, Herrmann and McLean are just three of the signatories to the 1893 petition. All in all, thirteen separate petitions carried the signatures of 31,872 women. On the 19th of September, let’s celebrate all of those women with their unique lives, impressive achievements and their lasting influences upon us today.
Come along to Suffrage Day celebrations
We’ll be celebrating Suffrage Day at the Central Library on the 19th September. Come along and help us celebrate!
Library Planned activities
From 10am-2pm, you can:
Have fun experiencing the times with our photo booth
Try your hand at making a celebration camellia or badge
Write some messages about what being able to vote means to you
Watch a historical film (screenings are on the 1st floor)
Electoral Commission staff will also be with us from 12-2pm help you register for the electoral roll and answer any questions you have about voting in the present day!
Another event happening in the city, is the Kate Sheppard Ride — see details below from the organisers:
Dress to impress and get your wheels spinning by joining us at 1.30pm on Saturday, 22 September 2018 (wet weather day will be the next day) at Old St Paul’s in Mulgrave Street. The Suffrage 125 bicycle ride will take you through the streets of old Thorndon and Wellington’s CBD.
Date: Saturday, 22 September, 2018 Time: 1:30pm to 4:30pm Cost: 1 x Kate Sheppard $10 note Location: Old St Paul’s, 34 Mulgrave Street, Thorndon ,Wellington
Maori women and the vote / Rei, Tania
“In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Māori women were involved in two suffrage movements at the same time. Māori women supported the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in seeking the right to vote for members of the New Zealand House of Representatives, and they also sought the right to vote and to stand as members of the Māori Parliament – Te Kotahitanga. By the turn of the century both these goals had been achieved. Their involvement in the suffrage movements was a significant development in the story of Māori women and the ways in which they organised at a national level to deal with issues of importance to them and their communities.” (Summary from the Royal Society – Te Apārangi)
The Women’s Suffrage Petition = Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine, 1893.
“In May 2017 the exhibition He Tohu opened at the National Library in Wellington. This celebrates three founding documents in New Zealand’s history – He Whakaputanga: The Declaration of Independence (1835), the Treaty of Waitangi: Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840) and the Women’s Suffrage Petition (1893). The originals of these documents are on display at the National Library, in a wonderful exhibition that tells the history of the times and the story of the documents themselves.” (Library Catalogue)
Women’s suffrage in New Zealand / Grimshaw, Patricia
“First published in 1972, Patricia Grimshaw’s account of the New Zealand suffrage movement remains the definitive study of New Zealand’s radical role as the first country in the world to give women the vote. In clear, lively prose, this revised edition tells the fascinating story of the courage and determination early New Zealand feminists demonstrated, focusing particularly on the remarkable leadership of Kate Sheppard, whose ideas remain relevant today.” (Catalogue)