Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Kate Sheppard, New Zealand Suffragist

Katherine Wilson Sheppard (born 10 March 1857)

Kate Sheppard,
a photo dated 1905
In 1893, New Zealand introduced universal suffrage--becoming the first country to grant women the right to vote.

Born in Liverpool, England, Katherine Wilson immigrated to New Zealand in 1869 and married Walter Sheppard in 1872. After her initial involvement with the temperance movement and her co-founding of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in New Zealand, Kate Sheppard became the most prominent advocate in the country for women's suffrage. 

In 1891, Sheppard submitted a petition with 9,000 women's signatures to the New Zealand Parliament. When that effort did not succeed, she submitted a second petition, this one with 19,000 signatures, the next year. Although that effort to secure the vote for women still failed, she followed in the next year with what she referred to as a "monster" petition, this time with nearly 32,000 signatures. The bill was passed, signed into law by David Boyle, governor of New Zealand, on 19 September 1893.

Kate Sheppard Memorial,
Oxford Terrace, Christchurch, New Zealand,
showing Sheppard with her huge petition
After women gained the right to vote in New Zealand, Sheppard returned briefly to Britain where she met with women active in the suffrage movement. Once back in New Zealand, she was elected president of the National Council of Women of New Zealand.

In 1903 Sheppard left New Zealand once more, traveling to Canada and the United States, where she met with the suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, then on to England, where she again involved herself in the campaign for women's suffrage. Suffering ill health, she returned to New Zealand in 1904.

She died in Christchurch on 13 July 1934.

Today, Kate Wilson Sheppard is recognized with a memorial in Christchurch. She also appears on the country's ten-dollar bill. For a biographical study, see Judith Devaliant's Kate Sheppard: A Biography.