Charlotte Macdonald: A report following Suffrage Week 2018

125 Years – 200 Events. Suffrage Week 2018

Wow, what a week!

Events up and down the motu have been held to mark the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa New Zealand. On Suffrage Day, Wednesday 19 September, 200 events were officially notified. Probably many more took place, including the many schools, worksites, bookclubs, etc, who had a suffrage themed morning tea or assembly. History has been painting the country purple, white and green.

The theme throughout has been one of celebrating this remarkable moment in our history while also renewing commitment to the goals of equality and justice for all.

In Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, events included a breakfast opening of a new exhibition at Te Papa: Doing it for Themselves: Women Fight for Equality/Te Tohe mō ngā Take Wāhine (curated by Katie Cooper, and the launch of Women Now. The Legacy of Female Suffrage (ed Bronwyn Labrum, School students from the region rubbed shoulders with Sue Bradford, Dames Fiona Kidman and Jenny Shipley, Holly Walker, Tina Makereti and many more.

At the Beehive that evening a very large gathering of people were hosted by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Acting Minister for Women Eugenie Sage. Students from Porirua College, Anastastia Sirila, Rosetta Lopa and Tiresia Fomai, sang; Emma Foy, paralympian and feminist, spoke alongside Ardern and Sage. A moving address from Mona-Pauline Mangakahia (great grand daughter, by whangai, of Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia) and presentation of a portrait of Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia by the whanau, then followed. The portrait of Mangakāhia, who spoke for women’s political rights in the Kotahitanga Parliament in the early 1890s, will be a permanent addition to Parliament Buildings.

Over the weekend 21-23 September, the Womens Studies Association Pae Akoranga Wāhine in conjunction with the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, convened the ‘Feminist Engagements in Aotearoa: 125 Years of Suffrage and Beyond’ conference at the Pipitea campus of VUW. Barbara Brookes gave a public lecture on the subject ‘The Power of the Purse’ to a packed audience on Friday 21 September at the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mataurānga o Aotearoa.

The conference received a personal message, by video, from Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister for Scotland, noting the links between Scotland and New Zealand’s suffrage campaigns – through Frances Parker the New Zealand born and raised WSPU member whose medal is now in Te Papa’s collection; the education systems, and the inspiration given by New Zealand suffragists to campaigners in Scotland.

Linda Waimarie Nikora (University of Auckland) and Lizzie Marvelly (singer, songwriter, columnist) gave splendid keynote addresses while a host of newer and older presenters made for a packed and lively buzz of sessions. Historians were numerous, coming from all around the country with projects ranging from Colorado suffrage campaigns to early 20thC women architects, to service workers’ union organising, to the 1919 representation moment, and much more. A full programme can be seen here

Beautfully bedecked cyclists in the Kate Sheppard Ride (Pouhere Taonga Heritage New Zealand and Wellington Frocks on Bikes) went zooming past the windows where the conference was meeting in the middle of a balmy Wellington spring day!

I know members of NZHA and the Women’s History network throughout the country will have their own reports to make of many other events through the week – and the 125th year. Tell us about them!

Whakatū wahine!

Charlotte Macdonald
Whangaui-a-Tara, 24 September 2018