Margaret Bullock

Margaret Bullock (1845–1903).

Margaret Bullock was a feisty protagonist in the women’s suffrage movement in Whanganui. She actively encouraged women to sign the suffrage petition by going door to door. Her skills as a journalist were a great asset and as a parliamentary correspondent she had crucial inside knowledge. On one occasion in 1893 she was able to warn of impending political obstruction.

Margaret helped establish the Whanganui branch of the Women’s Franchise League and in May 1893 she became its vice-president. As well as asserting women’s right to the vote, the League addressed issues around ‘women’s work and economic position’. Unlike the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, another key organisation in the fight for the vote, the League was not focused on restricting access to alcohol and was keen to include women of all or no religious beliefs.

Letter from Margaret Bullock

After the vote was won, Margaret again walked the streets urging women to register and vote in the election on 28 November 1893. Her approach was to reach out to women in person or by giving public talks. She also wrote for the local newspaper and published magazine articles. In a letter to the editor written for the Wanganui Chronicle in 1893, Margaret (‘M.B.’) acknowledged that some men and women opposed votes for women.

Suffragists saw female suffrage as the first step in ending discrimination against women. From the outset the right to vote was part of a much broader campaign for women’s rights and equality on many fronts, including equal educational opportunities for girls and equal divorce rights.

Margaret’s passion for economic independence for women reflected her personal circumstances. She was widowed and raised five children on her own. In 1895 she met with Premier Richard Seddon to argue for equal pay for women.

Margaret Bullock was a key figure in the National Council of Women of New Zealand established in 1896, and becoming national vice-president in 1900.

See the DNZB entry on Margaret Bullock.

Further reading:

Bronwyn Labrum. 'Bullock, Margaret', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2b49/bullock-margaret (accessed 6 November 2017)

Julia Schuster, ‘The women’s movement’, in Janine Hayward (ed.), New Zealand government and politics, 6th edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 2015, pp. 534-44.

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