“We believe that a very large number of women do not desire to vote. They shrink from having to go to the polling booths on election days. They would much prefer staying at home and attending to their household duties.”
So said an article in The Press of Christchurch, New Zealand, after the country became the world’s first to give women the right to vote on this day in 1893.
When women cast ballots later that year, The Press grudgingly admitted that it had happened without “any very remarkably disastrous consequences.”
The victory (which enfranchised Maori women, too) was hard won.
The leading causes of death in New Zealand at the time were said to be “drink, drowning, and drowning while drunk.” With alcoholism taking a toll on family life, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union — fiercely opposed by the liquor industry — spearheaded the suffrage effort, hoping that enfranchised women could get alcohol banned. (They could not.)
Kate Sheppard, New Zealand’s most famous suffragist, noted wryly when the Electoral Act passed that “it does not seem a great thing to be thankful for” that the government has “declared us to be ‘persons.’ ”
Other countries gradually followed suit: the U.S. in 1920, India in 1947, Switzerland in 1971.
The latest country to enfranchise women? Saudi Arabia in 2011.
(Nancy Wartik, “Back Story,” NYTimes, 9-19-18)
[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]