1993 stands out in my memory for two reasons – the centenary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, and discovering a fact about one of my grandmothers. The two are connected.
I was in Wellington attending the centenary celebrations and took the opportunity to view the petition documents at National Archives. On the database I tapped in family names, and there she was. My paternal grandmother, Mary Aberhart, who had just turned 21 years old, had signed the 1893 petition. I spent the rest of the weekend in a state of elation – and the continuing glow has remained over the intervening years.
Even though I didn’t have the pleasure of growing up knowing her, she has been my, and indeed the family’s, heroine since.
It is entirely proper that such an important event as the granting of women’s right to vote continues to be celebrated. Now, just short of a century and a quarter on, comes this book.
An introduction by Barbara Brookes, Professor of History at University of Otago, is informative and very readable – providing a handy summary of the history of voting in this country
The petition itself is explained – how a group of stalwart women distributed hundreds of printed sheets throughout the country, collected 24,000 signatures, and put the sheets together to form a roll 274 metres long.
The bulk of the book’s 102 pages give brief accounts of 162 women who signed the history-making document, with facsimiles of selected sheets bearing approximately 1300 signatures. Care has been taken to include each geographical area where the petition was circulated.
Whether you’re as fortunate as our family is to have our heroine included (see page 56), or not, this is a great record of all those grandmothers, great grandmothers, great aunts and great-greats who had the foresight, the strength, and the opportunity to add their name. They are all, rightly, remembered in this nation’s history.
Editors: Jane Parkin, Nancy Swarbrick, Caren Wilton
Publisher: Bridget Williams Books in conjunction with National Library and Archives New Zealand.