Outlines of the women's franchise movement in New Zealand/Chapter 3


THE Women's Christian Temperance Union had its origin in the United States of America. In December, 1873, under the inspiration of a temperance address delivered by Dr. Lewis, of Boston, earnest women in a number of the towns and villages of the State of Ohio were moved to concentrated action against the drinking saloons.

The movement became known as the Women's Temperance Crusade, and its success was most extraordinary. So great was the wave of enthusiasm created, that in fifty days the liquor traffic was swept out of no fewer than two hundred and fifty towns and villages. But marvellous as their success had been, the women at the head of the movement saw that if the drink traffic and its attendant evils were to be kept at bay, sustained and systematic work would be necessary.

The workers in the various towns were therefore formed into Unions, and in November, 1874, these hitherto separate bodies were linked together in an organisation known as the National Women's Christian Temperance Union of the United States.

The Union flourished exceedingly, and in the early part of the year 1883 a more ambitious project was launched. The idea was to call into existence an organisation which would embrace Unions of Christian Temperance women workers in every civilised country in the world. The "World's W.C.T.U." was therefore organised, to which was affiliated not only the Unions in America but also the large and influential body known as the British Women's Temperance Association.

The new organisation was fortunate in its selection of officers, who were both gifted and enthusiastic. Under their direction several able women were sent out as "round the world Missionaries." By this time the Union had greatly enlarged the scope of its labours.

Mrs. K. W. Sheppard.jpg

K. W.

Not only was evil found to be hydra-headed, but it was discovered that among the members of the Union there was great diversity of gifts. Educative, preventive and rescue work was therefore undertaken, papers and books were published, homes and hospitals were established, and at the present time some forty separate departments of work afford ample employment for the varied abilities of the members. Each department is worked under Superintendents, who are responsible for its efficiency, and the system works admirably. Thus a local Union appoints Superintendents for such departments as it may think suitable. The Superintendents initiate and keep going in their neighbourhood the work of their several departments. Each local Superintendent reports to and is assisted by the District Superintendent of her department, who reports, in turn, to the National Superintendent. The National Superintendents communicate in like manner with the "World's" Superintendent, and this method has been found to be both elastic and effective. The Women's Christian Temperance Union is a living protest against the assertion that women have no constructive ability.

In February, 1885, Mrs Mary Clement Leavitt, one of the "round the World Missionaries" before mentioned, landed in Auckland on her way round the world. Mrs Leavitt possessed a cool, logical brain and admirable organising ability. Making short halts as she journeyed from Auckland to the Bluff, she addressed meetings of women and formed District Unions in each of the larger centres of the Colony. These in their turn established local Unions in the smaller towns, and at the present time the Colony is practically covered with a network of Unions. In February, 1886, a Convention of delegates from the various Unions was held in Wellington, and a chief governing body for the Colony, now known as the New Zealand W.C.T.U., was constituted. Definite departments of work were decided upon and "New Zealand" or General Superintendents were appointed to each. The duties of these "New Zealand" Superintendents was, as has before been indicated, to induce the subordinate Unions to appoint local superintendents for their particular departments, and to plan for and advise them as to their work in these respects.

Among the departments decided upon was that then known as the "Franchise" department.

The sagacious women who had so skilfully planned this world-wide organisation had realised that to debar one-half of the people from a share of the governing power was false to the spirit of a pure democracy. The Franchise Department was therefore set up with the object of creating a more enlightened public feeling in this respect. To this department was also entrusted the duty of watching the course of legislation and of influencing, as far as possible, legislators, in the direction of better laws. At Mrs Leavitt's suggestion, the New Zealand Union agreed that franchise work should be undertaken, and in 1887 Mrs Katharine W. Sheppard[note 1] was appointed Superintendent, for the Colony. At the time of her appointment public feeling was decidedly hostile to the enfranchisement of women. Nor was this feeling of hostility confined to men. Incomprehensible as it may seem, there are some minds that shrink from the very idea of being free to think and act as conscience and reason may direct. And just as to-day there are women who are antagonistic to the Removal of Women's Disabilities, so in 1887 there were many who were averse to the claim of enfranchisement. Others there were who regarded the question as interesting from the abstract point of view, but as being idealistic rather than practical.

And scattered here and there throughout the Colony were a few brave spirits who felt that freedom was a priceless possession to be worked and fought for. To unite these latter, to arouse the indolently thoughtful to action, to convert the hostile was the work that lay before the Franchise department.

  1. written in work "now Mrs. K. N. Lovell-Smith", who would be daughter-in-law of author. (Wikisource contributor note)