Kate Sheppard

From Academic Kids

Katherine Wilson Sheppard (10 March 184713 July 1934) was the most prominent member of New Zealand's women's suffrage movement, and is the country's most famous suffragette. Because New Zealand was the first country to introduce universal suffrage, Sheppard's work had a considerable impact on women's suffrage movements in other countries.


Early life

Sheppard was born in Liverpool, England, to Scottish parents. Officially, her name was Catherine Wilson Malcolm, although she generally preferred to spell her given name "Katherine", or abbreviate it to "Kate". She received a good education, and was noted for her intellectual ability. In 1868, several years after the death of her father, Sheppard was brought by her mother to Christchurch, Three years later, she married Walter Allen Sheppard, and adopted his surname.

In 1885, Sheppard became involved in establishing the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union, part of the larger temperance movement. Sheppard's involvement arose primarily from her religious beliefs, which she had inherited from her mother.

Women's suffrage movement

Realising that much of the support for temperance came from women, the Temperance Union gradually became active in advocating the cause of women's suffrage, an area in which Sheppard quickly became involved. Her interest in women's suffrage, however, went beyond practical considerations regarding temperance: her views were made well known with her statement that "all that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome." Sheppard proved to be a powerful speaker and a skilled organiser, and quickly built support for her cause.

The Temperance Union presented a petition in favour of women's suffrage to Parliament in 1891. It was supported in Parliament by John Hall, Alfred Saunders, and the Premier, John Ballance. Sheppard played a considerable part in organising the petition. A second petition, larger than the first, was presented the following year, and a third, still larger, was presented in 1893. That year, a women's suffrage bill was successfully passed, granting women full voting rights. New Zealand often claims to be the first country in the world to grant women's suffrage. Sheppard herself was widely acknowledged as the leader of the women's suffrage movement.

Sheppard had no time to rest, however, as the 1893 election was only ten weeks away. Along with the Temperance Union, she was highly active in getting women to register as voters. Despite the short notice, nearly two thirds of women cast a vote.

National Council of Women

The year after women's suffrage was achieved, Sheppard returned to England for a short time, where she met prominent British suffragettes and gave a number of speeches. Upon her return home, she was elected president of the newly-founded National Council of Women of New Zealand. The National Council of Women had considerable influence on public opinion. Sheppard later became involved in the production of a newspaper, the White Ribbon, for the Council.

Many of the ideas that Sheppard promoted were related to improving the situation and status of women - in particular, she was concerned about establishing legal and economic independence of women from men. She was not wholly occupied with advancing women's rights, however, also finding time to promote political reforms such as proportional representation, binding referendums, and a Cabinet elected directly by Parliament.

Later life

Kate Sheppard on the New Zealand ten dollar bill
Kate Sheppard on the New Zealand ten dollar bill

In 1903, Sheppard stepped down from her positions at the National Council of Women due to ill health. Later that year, she and her husband (who had recently retired) moved to England, intending to retire there. She briefly stopped in Canada and the United States, meeting American suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt. In London, she was active in promoting women's suffrage in Britain, but was soon unable to continue her work due to her deteriorating health.

In 1904, Sheppard returned to New Zealand. She remained relatively inactive in political circles, but continued to write. While she did not recover her former energy, her health was no longer declining, and she continued to influence the New Zealand women's movement to a great extent. In 1916, Sheppard and a group of other prominent suffragettes were able to revitalise the National Council of Women, which had gone into recess.

In 1925, Sheppard married William Sidney Lovell-Smith, her first husband having died in 1915 in England. Lovell-Smith died only four years later. Sheppard herself died in Christchurch on 13 July, 1934.

Sheppard is considered to be an important figure in New Zealand's history. A memorial to her exists in Christchurch, and her image appears on New Zealand's Ten dollar bill.


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