Celebrate 125 years of women’s suffrage - and wonder at what’s still to be done

by Catherine Smith / 31 August, 2018

125 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand will be celebrated with a number of events, including a sunrise celebration at Aotea Square. Photo / Getty Images

Kiwis have always been proud of our history of social activism, starting with September 19, 1893, when New Zealand became the first country to grant women the right to vote.

125 years ago, Queen Victoria was still on the throne, Richard Seddon had just become prime minister and we got our first lady mayor (Elizabeth Yates, in the borough of Onehunga). We'd taken some big steps on our way to asserting our economic independence; it was just 11 years since the first frozen lamb had been shipped to the motherland, the first town had only just switched on electricity and parcel post was still a novelty.

We’ve come a long way baby. 

Celebrations around the city - and country - are taking a hard look at where we’ve come from, and what we still need to do to get full equality for all women in this country.

But ahead of this significant anniversary, there are plenty of opportunities to walk, talk, look and learn.

Beattie and Sanderson. Lady voters going up to polling-booth in Rutland Street, election day, Auckland. 1899. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 7-A12353.

See it for real

If you’re in Wellington between now and the end of the year, head to He Tohu, the National Library to see an actual copy of the Women's Suffrage Petition - Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti WahineThere are stories, cartoons and more (some pretty threatening newspaper editors) as the country debated before the decision that led the world in women's suffrage.

Walk (or bike) it

Until the end of the month, Te Ara I Whiti – The Lightpath will have a programmed light show by artist Peata Larkin (Tūhourangi, Ngāti Whakaue and Tūwharetoa). She’s also making a bold new series of works for an exhibition at Silo Park in November. Her work on ‘mana wahine’ will acknowledge master Māori weaver Dame Rangimarie Hetet and suffragette Kate Sheppard.

Around the city, stop to check out public artworks celebrating suffrage, including Jan Morrison and Claudia Pond Eyley’s 1993 legendary tile mural on the steps at Khartoum Place, Lisa Reihana’s Justice celebrating one of the country’s first female lawyers, Ellen Melville, on the building named after her on O’Connell Street.

Tea time and thoughts

Here We Are: Celebrating the practices of New Zealand’s artist women

Accompanied by a series of delightful Gil Hanly photographs of the artists in their studios, Wallace Arts Trust has pulled 40 works by 30 women from its collection. From Jacqueline Fahey, Gretchen Albrecht and Rita Angus to Emily Karaka, Liz Maw, Star Gossage. Women painting, sculpting and photographing - and sparking conversations about what it means to be a practicing female artist in New Zealand.

Wallace Arts Trust, Pah Homestead, until Sunday, September 2.

Women’s suffrage petition cartoon. From ‘The New Zealand Graphic’, 12 August 1893. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 7-A12355.

Wake up to it

The centrepiece celebration on September 19 is a Sunrise Celebration at Aotea Square, joined by Jacinda Ardern. Yes, there’ll be speeches, including the winner of the School Girl Speech Competition, but also Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh, Annie Crummer, food trucks and a DJ set.

Aotea Square, 7am, September 19.

Read it

The city library is going hard with its Wahine Take Action programming from now until November 11. The emphasis is not on the big and the famous, but on the grassroots actions of everyday people - then and now - campaigning for gender equality. Libraries are a place of civic action and debate, so join in free workshops, exhibitions, discussion, art and craftivism. Late Night with The Laterals, part of Artweek partnership, projects digital art from up and coming female artists onto the St James for Late Night Art (October 9, 7pm).

Join it

Auckland Museum’s Are We There Yet: Women and Equality in Aotearoa, is more than a static display of historic photos and memorabilia (although those are fascinating, particularly the ground-breaking marches and posters). The exhibition is a springboard to check out the successes and not, and discuss where to next. Check out Gaylene Preston’s short-film, share your experiences and thoughts in this participatory exhibition.

Until October 31, Special Exhibitions Hall.

Talk it

The Speak Up series of talks at Aotea Centre runs all day next Saturday. Feisty and opinionated wāhine in the arts will talk, debate and, we hope, argue with love, about difficult subjects.

Individual and ticket packages for the full Speak Up! line-up.

Act it

Not officially part of the line up, but Auckland theatres are currently showing two shows about stroppy women - Chicago (some very clever dancing and singing about partner abuse, let’s face it),  Bright Star about the life of trail-blazing New Zealand astronomer Beatrice Hill Tinsley, fighting for recognition in an era where the fairer sex were best kept at home. There's also the return of the inimitable Mrs Krishnan from Indian Ink Theatre’s Krishnan’s Dairy in Mrs Krishnan's Party.

Chicago, Civic Theatre, until September 9.
Bright Star, Herald Theatre, September 4 - 6.
Mrs Krishnan’s Party, Q Theatre, until Sunday.


If you're looking for a list of events happening around the country, you can try this


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