Mu­seum dis­play aims to in­spire youth

Horowhenua Chronicle - - TRAVEL -

A Women’s Suf­frage Ex­hi­bi­tion at O¯ taki Mu­seum is hop­ing to in­spire younger gen­er­a­tions who take women’s equal­ity and right to vote for granted.

Ex­hi­bi­tion co-or­di­na­tor Di Buchan said it had been fun putting to­gether the ex­hi­bi­tion and the team had learned a lot.

She hoped this would be the same for peo­ple of all gen­er­a­tions vis­it­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion.

“This 125th an­niver­sary of women’s suf­frage gives us the op­por­tu­nity to re­flect that just over 100 years ago, upon mar­riage a man ac­quired his wife’s prop­erty, he was the sole owner of their chil­dren, he had no obli­ga­tions to pro­vide for her on his pass­ing and only he had the right to in­flu­ence the laws of this coun­try,” she said.

“The cat­a­lysts for women’s vot­ing rights were two-fold: To ad­dress the in­jus­tice of women’s un­equal sta­tus in so­ci­ety and to have some con­trol over the laws by which the whole pop­u­la­tion was gov­erned and par­tic­u­larly, the laws gov­ern­ing the liquor in­dus­try.”

Buchan said it was the lat­ter that was a hugely in­flu­en­tial fac­tor be­hind the op­po­si­tion of many men, in­clud­ing politi­cians such as the Prime Min­is­ter Richard Sed­don who was heav­ily in­volved in the liquor trade him­self.

“The link be­tween al­co­hol con­sump­tion and women’s fran­chise should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Ev­ery town had at least one pub. Al­co­hol was the cause of much grief and poverty for women and chil­dren. Many women felt they had to stop that and in many places they did. In 1984 the first ref­er­en­dum of the sale of al­co­hol was held and the newly en­fran­chised women voted in their thou­sands. The im­pact was swift and se­vere with many ar­eas (Bal­clutha be­ing the first) go­ing dry within a mat­ter of months of the vote.”

In 1902 Wil­liam Pem­ber Reeves (pre­vi­ously Min­is­ter of Jus­tice, Ed­u­ca­tion and Labour and at the time of writ­ing, High Com­mis­sioner to Lon­don) wrote: ‘One fine morn­ing of Septem­ber 1893, the women of New Zealand woke up and found them­selves en­fran­chised. The priv­i­lege was theirs, given freely and spon­ta­neously, in the eas­i­est and most un­ex­pected man­ner in the world’.

“Now we know that he ac­tu­ally voted in favour of women’s suf­frage be­cause Mrs Reeves is on record as having writ­ten to Kate Shep­pard ad­vis­ing her that she could count on Mr Reeves’ vote be­cause she ‘had seen to that’.

“There does not seem to be any record of what Mrs Reeves did to en­sure her hus­band com­plied with her in­struc­tions.

“Yet here is this man who was in Par­lia­ment at the time of the de­bates which went on for three years or more, nine years later re-writ­ing his­tory to project the im­age that the politi­cians of the time were the good guys and the women of NZ, the pas­sive re­cip­i­ents of their benev­o­lence.”

Buchan said the O¯ taki ex­hi­bi­tion pro­vides the proof, if any is needed, that Reeves’ ver­sion of his­tory, which be­came widely per­pe­trated around the world, was a false­hood that did great dis­ser­vice to all those women.

“Our ma­ter­nal an­ces­tors cam­paigned tire­lessly for years and fi­nally won — by two votes.”

She said the ex­hi­bi­tion gives ev­ery­one an op­por­tu­nity to thank these women and to ac­knowl­edge how we have ben­e­fited from their bat­tles.

“The sta­tus of women in this coun­try, the op­por­tu­ni­ties we have now to live full and in­de­pen­dent lives should never be taken for granted. We need to en­sure younger gen­er­a­tions are aware of this.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion will be on dis­play un­til at least the end of Oc­to­ber. The O¯ taki Mu­seum is open Thurs­days, Fri­days and Satur­days from 10am un­til 2pm, 49 Main St, O¯ taki.

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SUF­FRAGE ex­hi­bi­tion team. At the open­ing of the O¯ taki Women and the Fight for the Vote ex­hi­bi­tion last Wed­nes­day evening, O¯ taki Mu­seum trustee and ex­hi­bi­tion co­or­di­na­tor Di Buchan, mid­dle, thanked team mem­bers Jill Abi­gail and Liz Jull for their hard work, and also the O¯ taki Ge­nealog­i­cal So­ci­ety for their con­tri­bu­tion to the in­for­ma­tion.

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