Descendant of Kiwi suffragette seeks answers on her key role

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

On the 125th anniversary of the 1893 New Zealand general election where women were allowed to vote for the first time, a descendant of a woman that played a crucial role in that outcome wants answers.

When the main suffrage petition was digitised with a database of signees several years ago, Kura Carpenter discovered her great-great-grandma was the first name on the document that would lead to women being granted the right to vote.

“I looked up and discovered that Mary Jane was positioned ‘one of one’ and when that result came back I thought, 'Aw this doesn't work, it's broken,' but checked the names and there she was ‘Mary Jane Carpenter of Yaldhurst’,” Ms Carpenter told 1 NEWS.

Ms Carpenter said family members weren’t aware of the role Mary Jane Carpenter played and at first, were sceptical.

“Only recently, I’ve discovered that, yeah, she was actually involved in the suffragette movement but unfortunately that part of my family history hasn’t come through.”

Three years on from the discovery, 43-year-old Ms Carpenter is desperately wanting to find out more about the position her ancestor held on the petition, signing the document at the same age of 43.

“How was she there in the right place at the right time? Was she the neighbour of somebody prominent?

“I’m hoping that there’s some kindly genealogist that might help me answer some of these questions,” she said.

The number of women's signatures presented to Parliament on multiple petitions totalled nearly 32,000.

The Electoral Act 1893 came about after two councillors changed their mind on the decision to grant women the right to vote at the last minute.

Ten weeks later, women went to the polls around the country for the first time, after being advised by the Government to exercise their right with guidance on voting from their husband, or if unmarried, their brother. 

More than 80 per cent of the female population had enrolled to vote, at 109,461 women.

On the day, 90,290 cast their votes with a higher turnout than that of the registered male voters.

Today, the Government marked the milestone at Parliament, with a breakfast attended by 21st century women’s rights advocates and activists.

Association Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Carmel Sepuloni said while great improvements have been made to achieve equality in New Zealand, the fight is not over, commenting on the fact 38 per cent of members of parliament are female.

“Until we get to that place where we have equal representation then, as I said, we are not there yet,” she said.