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City Library commemorates 125 years of women’s suffrage

On 19 September 1893, New Zealand became the first country where women could vote in general elections. To celebrate the 125th anniversary, Palmerston North City Library is hosting displays, activities and events in conjunction with the national Suffrage 125 Whakatū Wāhine Commemoration programme.

Suffrage 125 Opt

Debbie Duncan General Manager Community, says the commemorations commence on Friday 14 September with a fortnight-long photographic display on the Central Library’s mezzanine floor.

“Palmerston North women played their part in advocating for women’s suffrage. The photographs show some of the women who collected 523 local signatures for Kate Sheppard’s 1893 suffrage petition. The town’s population was only about 4000 at the time.”

On Suffrage Day, Wednesday 19, there’s the opportunity to make suffragette rosettes in the Roslyn Library between 10am and 5pm. 

The Central Library is hosting an afternoon sewing bee for the international menstrual care movement, Days for Girls, and from 7pm there’s a student speech competition. 

Sponsored by Graduate Women Manawatū, the competition with a $400 prize is on the topic “What does 125 years of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa/New Zealand mean to you? 

“The library’s main anniversary event is on Sunday 22 September at 2pm when well-known historian Dorothy Pilkington brings a free presentation called Epicene Women to the second floor Heritage Room.” 

Epicene Women is a reference to the suffrage campaigners who, in the words of an 1893 tract opposing votes for women, were “unsexing themselves and meddling in masculine concerns of which they are profoundly ignorant”. 

“The talk will be followed by a 15-minute dance theatre tribute to those dedicated women by Palmerston North’s Crows Feet Dance Collective.”

As part of the 125th commemoration, a quilt designed and coordinated by the late Elizabeth Berkahn for the suffrage centennial in 1993, is hanging in Central Library’s Fiction Living Room, with related books and media forming part of the Recommended Reading display.

A perspective on what universal suffrage has achieved will be presented at the library in October by Massey University Professor Emeritus Margaret Tennant. 

Also in October, there will be a revival of the 1993 suffrage centennial Women and Place Heritage Trail during the library’s annual Local History Week.