New Zealand women were given the right to vote in parliamentary elections in September, 1893.
Although women had voted in Wyoming since 1869 and in Utah since 1870, New Zealand was the first nation state in the world to allow women to vote. In 1893 with the extension of voting rights to women, the self-governing British colony became first major nation to grant universal suffrage; however, women were not eligible to stand for parliament until 1919. Universal suffrage for Maori men over 21 granted 1867; extended to European males 1879.
Maori men achieved universal suffrage 12 years before European men.
Discovering that much of the support for moderation came from women, the Temperance Union increasingly became active in advocating the cause of women’s suffrage, an area in which Sheppard quickly became prominent. Her interest in women’s suffrage, however, went beyond practical considerations regarding temperance: her views were made well known with her statement that “all that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome.” Sheppard proved to be a powerful speaker and a skilled organiser, and quickly built support for her cause.
The Temperance Union presented a petition in favour of women’s suffrage to Parliament in 1891. It was supported in Parliament by John Hall, Alfred Saunders, and the Premier, John Ballance. Sheppard played a considerable part in organising the petition. A second petition, larger than the first, was presented the following year, and a third, still larger, was presented in 1893. That year, a women’s suffrage bill was successfully passed, granting women full voting rights. Sheppard herself was widely acknowledged as the leader of the women’s suffrage movement.
Sheppard had no time to rest, however, as the 1893 election as only ten weeks away. Along with the Temperance Union, she was highly active in getting women to register as voters. Despite the short notice, nearly two thirds of women cast a vote.
The year after women’s suffrage was achieved, Sheppard returned to England for a short time, where she met prominent British suffragettes and gave a number of speeches. Upon her return home, she was elected president of the newly-founded National Council of Women of New Zeland which had considerable influence on public opinion.
Many ideas that Sheppard promoted were related to improving the situation and status of women – in particular, she was concerned about establishing legal and economic independence of women from men.
She was not wholly occupied with advancing women’s rights, however, also finding time to promote political reforms such as proportional representation, binding referendums, and a Cabinet elected directly by Parliament.