Museum display aims to inspire youth
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.
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.