As both a New Zealander and a woman, I have long admired Kate Sheppard, not only for what she accomplished, but how she accomplished it and the way she lived her life.
After many years of struggling to have their voices heard, on September 19th 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women the vote. 121 years on Kate Sheppard is still remembered today as one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. Her face is on the $10 note, and most New Zealanders recognise her name, but few realise the amazing person and the strength of character behind the name.
Kate was a talented writer and an adept public speaker, as Tessa Malcolm (one of Kate Sheppard’s biographers) writes, “Hers was a quietly determined, persuasive, and disarmingly feminine voice.” It was a voice that was to turn many opinions, and convince a good many people that women should indeed have the right to vote. After having achieved the goal she had worked so long and hard for, Kate Sheppard went on to publish and lecture widely, influencing a new generation of New Zealand women.
Kate Sheppard, along with many other women fought tirelessly in an uphill battle to win the right to vote and succeeded, in the process inspiring generations of New Zealanders to come. She has been described and her opinions have been explained in many ways, but perhaps it is best to leave you with her own words; “We are tired of having a ‘sphere’ doled out to us…We want to be natural just for a change … we must be ourselves at all risks.”
The paragraphs above are a paraphrasing and a shortening of an article I wrote for Suffrage day 7 years ago for the University magazine where I was a student journalist. My life has changed dramatically since that time, but still Kate Sheppard’s words and actions a source of inspiration and a reminder to me to stand up and fight for what I believe, not because it’s necessary as a feminist, but because it’s vital as a human being.
I call myself a feminist but above all I believe in people and their ability to change the world. Every year I do my best to communicate this to my students, and help them believe in themselves and others too. And I can’t wait to share it with my son. I want him to grow up seeing the good in people, and believing in the impact of just one person – like Kate Sheppard did.