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Frontier Of Dreams

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Women's Suffrage

The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was formed in 1885 and had a whole range of concerns it wanted to address. Initially focusing on 'temperance', the restraint or outright prohibition of alcohol, they soon found that without the vote, they were empty voices. So they turned their focus to the fight for women's suffrage.

Kate Sheppard became New Zealand's leading suffragist. She launched a country-wide petition from her Christchurch base. Sheppard's loudest critic was the Dunedin Mayor, Henry Fish, an advocate for the brewery industries. Fish was alarmed at the threat the women's vote might pose to what he saw as the natural order of things and particularly to the sale of liquor.

Premier Richard Seddon was also vehemently opposed to the vote for women, but there was so much support for the cause that he was forced to compromise. Finally, in 1893 the largest petition yet was unrolled before the House. It contained over almost 32,000 signatures, demanding women's suffrage.

The Bill to give women the vote was put before Parliament. It got over the first hurdle when it passed through the lower house but Seddon was still opposed and planned to stop it in the upper house.

Seddon hoped that by nominating certain people to the Legislative Council and then asking them to vote against the Bill, he would be able to achieve its failure. But several key members were outraged at Seddon's plan and voted for the Suffrage Bill even though they actually opposed it.

So in this strange and almost accidental way, New Zealand became the first nation in the world to grant the vote to everyone over the age of 21.