Little Bits of History

Equal Rights

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 19, 2012

Richard Seddon

September 19, 1893: The Electoral Act of 1893 passes. Suffrage or political franchise is the civil right to vote gained through a democratic process. One of the basic rights of democratic freedom is the right to have one’s voice heard at the ballot box. It has been a highly contested right over time and as the fight goes on, more people are given this “inalienable” right which was withheld from them. On this day, in New Zealand, women were given the right to vote, the first presently independent country to do so. The right was not easily won, however. Women of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and other independent souls thought that women having a voice in politics would bring a wider moral compass to the process. Opponents believed that women’s place was in the home. As a retort, women claimed having a voice in politics would help to protect families.

Jules Vogel, the eighth premier of New Zealand had tried to get the vote to women in 1887 but the bill failed. Others also narrowly missed being passed. Then in 1893, the Lower House passed a bill with a large majority. Next it needed to pass the Legislative Council (the upper house) and the voting was very close. Premier Richard Seddon ordered a Liberal Party councilor to change his vote to against the bill.  Two others were so annoyed that they switched their votes, too. They moved from against to for the passage and the bill went through the Council with a vote of 20 to 18. Both sides claimed they were responsible for the passage of the bill in order to gain favor with the newly minted voters across the country.

Women have been seeking a voice in government since voting began. Even in medieval Europe, city and town elections were open to head of households. In Sweden, between 1718 and 1771, women taxpayers who were listed as professionals in guild rolls were given the right to vote. In Corsica in 1755, unmarried or widowed women over the age of 25 were permitted to vote and could until the collapse of the Republic in 1769. In 1756 Lydia Chapin Taft became the first legal woman voter in the American colonies when she was permitted to have a say at a town meeting.

Some small island states (Pitcairn, Isle of Man, Cook Islands) gave women the vote before New Zealand. In the twentieth century, women’s suffrage really took off. Australia gave them the vote in 1902 and Finland followed in 1906. During the next decade, another 24 nations (including the UK) gave the fairer sex the right to a fair vote. During the 1920s another 11 nations jumped on the bandwagon, including the US. Another 18 nations got on board in the 1930s. The last nation to allow this precious right to female citizens in the twentieth century was Qatar, who gave women the vote in 1997. In the 21st century, Bahrain (2002), Oman (2003), Kuwait (2005), and United Arab Emirates (2006) finally caved to pressure and allowed women the vote. Saudi Arabia is expected to grant this right to women in 2015.

Every citizen of this country should be guaranteed that their vote matters, that their vote is counted, and that in the voting booth, their vote has a much weight as that of any CEO, any member of Congress, or any President. – Barbara Boxer

I believe that voting is the first act of building a community as well as building a country. – John Ensign

I’m totally down with insurrection in the street. I’ve had a great time with that over the years. Insurrection in the voting booth is the other part of the equation. – Jello Biafra

When public access to voting is impaired or when public confidence in voting is diluted, democracy suffers and our freedom is less secure. – DeForest Soaries

Also on this day:

Lord Haw-Haw – In 1945, William Joyce is sentenced to death for high treason against the British Government.
Buy a Vowel? – In 1983, Wheel of Fortune began evening broadcasts.
Sportsman of the Year – In 1988, Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board at the Olympic games.

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One Response

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on September 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

    The Electoral Act of 1893 ended the control that wives had in making the husbands vote as they told them to vote, resulting in men voting as they wanted to which was more in number than women cared to vote at all. The suffrage movement gained only much money for the leaders who made fortunes in donations to their cause. Net result was a loss of influence by women in what whappened outside their own homes.


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