For world famous suffragette, Kate Sheppard, the following comment did little to put her off her ambitions…
“…recommended to go home, look after their children, cook their husbands’ dinners, empty the slobs and generally attend to domestic affairs for which nature designed them; they should stop meddling in masculine concerns at which they are profoundly ignorant…”
Catherine Wilson Malcolm was born in Liverpool, England in 1848 to Scottish parents – Andrew Wilson Malcolm and Jemima Souter. One of four children, young Catherine had no problem in knowing her own mind – changing the ‘C’ in her name to ‘K’. Kate was well educated and was considered very bright.
In her teenage years, she took a keen interest in the sciences, art and law. She lived for some time in Ireland and Scotland, the latter being with her uncle who was a minister. It was he who had a great influence on Kate’s religious views and beliefs that would shape her so influentially.When Kate’s father died in 1869, Jemima moved her family to Christchurch. Just three years later, Kate was married to Walter Sheppard who worked as a merchant and grocer. Douglas, the couple’s only child was born later in 1880.In 1885, Kate played a role in the formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
Spurred by her religious view, Kate soon proved to be a good speaker and excellent organiser. The group soon extended their glance beyond the liquor prohibition to women’s rights. It had become quite obvious that the union could not make much of a difference for women and children without having their say in the government. Women needed to be able to vote!!!In 1891, what was regarded to be the first petition, arrived in parliament with 9000 signatures. The first two attempts had been squashed but Kate did not give up. The following year, another petition arrived with 19,000 signatures.The third petition arrived in 1893 and was measured to be 766 feet long and carried 32,000 signatures. The Woman Suffrage Bill was passed – women had earned the right to vote. Fears were rife with this power given to women – families would now be abandoned and the economy would be destroyed! Amongst the melodramas, Kate was able to reflect on this world-first triumph – especially as she was gifted (by Lord Glasglow) the pen that had signed the bill into history.But there was no time to waste. With the elections just weeks away, Kate busied herself getting as many women as she could to register. 65% of women voted that first year.
Striking while the iron was still hot, the Sheppard’s travelled to London – Kate meeting up with the British suffragettes and speaking at many meetings and writing articles for the interested publications. On her return to Christchurch, she was elected president of the National Council of Women. Their main aim was to improve situations and statuses of women. Equal wages, equal divorce rights, better health care, contraception amongst many other issues.
In 1903, Kate stepped down from her position due to bad health. With Walter planning to retire, the family had decided to settle in England. In London, Kate played a role in the women’s suffrage movement and her health continued to worsen. Told that a warmer, dryer climate would help, the Sheppard’s were back in Christchurch by the following year. Writing now took up Kate’s time, her role in public life now just a memory.
Kate lived to see not only the passing of Watler in 1915 but also the passing of their son Douglas in 1910. Douglas had only been married two years but did leave Kate with her only grandchild – Margaret Sheppard. At the age of 78 years, Kate remarried – becoming Kate Lovell-Smith. William, her new husband would only live for another 4 years. Kate died in 1934 and is buried with her mother and one of her brothers at Addington Cemetery.
Remembered in many ways around the city – a memorial walk, a statue, a flower and her home of 83 Clyde Road, Kate also features on the ten dollar note.
“All that separates, whether of race, class, creed or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome.” Kate Sheppard
*Image of Kate Sheppard courtesy of http://www.kaimai.school.nz *
*Photos taken by Annette Bulovic*