125th anniversary of Suffrage in New Zealand

Women can stand for Parliament

29 October 1919

Eliza Ellen Melville (Auckland City Libraries, A 10638)

On 29 October 1919, the Women’s Parliamentary Rights Act passed into law. Finally, women could stand for election to the House of Representatives.

It had been 26 years since women had achieved the right to vote with the Electoral Act 1893. Previous bills drafted to enfranchise women had included the right to stand for election, but these had been unsuccessful.

After 1893, there were several attempts to pass legislation granting women the right to stand. The National Council of Women (NCW) campaigned on the issue, but as this organisation waned and then went into recess in 1905, so too did the campaign for reform. For a decade, little happened.

Towards the end of the First World War, the movement for reform revived. The NCW was reformed in 1918 and campaigned on issues such as the age of consent and women police on which male politicians were not adequately representing their female constituents. In 1918, some British women won the right to vote and be elected, providing further impetus to the campaign in New Zealand.

While the Act admitted women to the House of Representatives (the lower house), they were still barred from entering the Legislative Council (the upper house), whose members were appointed by the government. The original bill had allowed for representation on the Legislative Council, but the Council itself had opposed this provision. Women were not able to be appointed to the Legislative Council until 1941, a decade before it was abolished.

The general election was contested just seven weeks after the passage of the Act. Three women stood: Rosetta Baume in Parnell, Aileen Cook in Thames, and Ellen Melville in Grey Lynn. None were elected, although Melville, standing for the ruling Reform Party, came second to the Labour candidate.

 

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