Old white man of the day

As it is Mothers’ Day today, we are bending the rules ever so slightly, to feature a mother. A mother who had an incredible influence on this country and who started a worldwide change that has benefited women, and men, ever since.? A mother that paved the way for women like Julie Anne Genter to rise to a position where she could dismissively belittle old white men and not be called to task for doing so.

Our honorary old white man of the day is Kate Sheppard. Unlike the suffragettes in England, for example, she wasn’t a militant figure. She used logic and debate to make it clear to the MPs that it was in their interest to support giving women the vote as it would bring votes to their party. Many saw Suffragettes as anti-family and unfeminine but she used how she dressed and acted to her advantage and perhaps that is why New Zealand got the vote for all women before any other country.

Born in Liverpool on 10 March 1847, Kate arrived in New Zealand with her family in 1869.? Married at 24, Kate was an active member of the Trinity Congregational Church, giving her time to church visiting, Bible classes and fund-raising. She became secretary of the Ladies Association and was also involved with other members of her family in temperance work. Quote:

Kate Sheppard became a founding member of the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union. It was quickly realised by the union that proposed social and legislative reforms concerning temperance and the welfare of women and children would be more effectively carried out if women possessed the right to vote and the right to representation in Parliament. In 1887 franchise departments were formed within the local unions and Sheppard was appointed national superintendent of the franchise and legislation department.

In this position she was responsible for coordinating and encouraging the local unions: she prepared and distributed pamphlets, wrote letters to the press and stimulated debate within the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, church meetings, and temperance and political societies. An accomplished public speaker and writer, she had a clear, logical intellect, and could also conduct argument without rancour. Kate Sheppard was motivated by humanitarian principles and a strong sense of justice: ‘All that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome’. Hers was a quietly determined, persuasive and disarmingly feminine voice.

[…]? The emphasis throughout the campaign, however, was on the right of women to vote; that right had previously been extended to males over 21 years. Women, in being excluded, had been classed with juveniles, lunatics and criminals. […]

In June 1891 Kate Sheppard inaugurated and began editing a women’s page in the?Prohibitionist, the national temperance magazine. With the formation of franchise leagues in many centres, and the increasing activity and growth of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union auxiliaries in the smaller centres, the largest petition ever presented to Parliament was collected in 1893 with nearly 32,000 signatures. The small band of 600 women members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union had successfully roused public opinion to the extent that Parliament could no longer ignore their demands.

The Electoral Act 1893 was passed on 19 September and Kate Sheppard received a telegram from the premier, Richard Seddon, previously her political enemy in the House, conceding victory to the women. The governor, Lord Glasgow, honoured Kate Sheppard as a political leader, by symbolically presenting to her the pen with which the bill granting womanhood suffrage had been signed.

It was ten weeks before the election, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union set about enrolling women. Kate Sheppard emphasised that the franchise department of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was anxious for all women of all classes to enrol. Sixty-five per cent of all New Zealand women over 21 voted in the first election. New Zealand had become the first country in which all women exercised the right to vote. […]

Sheppard’s absence [on a speaking tour to England] had resulted in some disarray among her supporters in the House. A bill to include women’s representation in Parliament was thwarted by her two previous stalwarts, Alfred Saunders and Sir John Hall, who wanted a separate chamber for women. Kate Sheppard had never advocated a separationist policy, and the loss of her influence meant, perhaps, that the crucial moment for women’s complete political equality was also lost.

The annual conferences of the National Council of Women, often called the ‘Women’s Parliament’, were frequently reported with full coverage by the local daily papers, and the resolutions passed were covered by the national press. These meetings also became an arena for public debate on social issues and affairs of state. In her presidential address at the second session in Christchurch in 1897 Kate Sheppard stated: ‘In Wellington is every year assembled a National Council of men, which holds a session lasting several months.?From that Council women are excluded.?Under these circumstances a National Council which largely represents the thinking and working women of the colony (and which, it may be remarked, costs the country nothing) becomes a necessity. I trust the day is not far distant?when the necessity for men’s councils and women’s councils, as such, will be swept away.’

In 1895 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union began publishing its own newspaper, the?White Ribbon, which was then the only paper in New Zealand to be started, owned, edited, managed and published by women. […]?Many of the articles were written by Sheppard. Often published as separate pamphlets, they reveal the coherence of her social philosophy. In lucid prose she discusses the need to make full use of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, repeal the Contagious Diseases Act 1869, emphasise the responsibilities of women as citizens, promote economic independence for married women, reform government and reconsider the guardianship of children. It is clear that she regarded the family as the foundation of the state, and believed that the state should therefore serve families. […]

Kate died at her home at Riccarton, Christchurch, on 13 July 1934. […] The?Christchurch Times?reported her death in simple appreciation: ‘A great woman has gone, whose name will remain an inspiration to the daughters of New Zealand while our history endures.’ End of quote.

Naturally, many objections were raised before the Bill to give women the vote was passed:? That women would abandon their families; that voting was somehow not feminine; that the finances of the colony would be adversely affected; and that women were overly emotional creatures and politics was no place for excessive emotion.

The ‘best’ objection came from the Maori member Mr. Wi Pere, who was greatly concerned about the distraction women would pose in Parliament: Quote:

?Although I am getting up in years I must confess I should be affected by a weakness of that sort. If the honourable gentlemen in charge of the Bill would introduce a clause providing that only plain women should be allowed to come into the House, I think the source of danger would be removed, but if any beautiful ladies were sent to this House I am sure they would lead astray the tender hearts of some honourable gentlemen, particularly the elder members of the House. I say in conclusion that if attractive ladies are allowed into this House I am quite certain that my own wife will never consent to my returning here.? End of quote.


The woman on the left only has her position on the left because the woman on the right was right.? Would Kate give the current crop of man-hating feminists the time of day?? Probably not, she used logic and reason rather than vitriol to advance her position.? However, being one of the first female cyclists in Christchurch, she may have agreed with Julie on one issue.