- Whakatū Wāhine
Voices of Women Voters of 1893
In late 1893 New Zealand women, both Māori and Pākehā, were able to vote in an election for the first time, thanks to tireless campaigning for many years by organisations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Women’s Franchise Leagues...
Between 1890 and 1893 they had organised a series of massive nationwide petitions, getting the signatures of over 30,000 women over the age of 21, asking for the right to vote to be extended to them.
In the sound archives of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision we have a handful of recordings of women who signed those petitions and voted in 1893, recalling that milestone and their part in it. This exhibition highlights those voices of first voters – and tries to fill in some details about their lives and their possible motivation for signing and voting.
Who is missing?
These few recordings are by no means a representative sample of all women voters of 1893. As with any archive, noting what is missing is just as important as what is held. ‘Archival silence’ is a term used to refer to the people and stories that are not captured in official records. In the case of a sound archive, it is literally a silence.
The development of sound recording technology meant the voices and views of the ‘average citizen’ were not recorded in great numbers until the mid-1950s when tape recording began to be used by radio broadcasters in New Zealand.
Between the mid-1930s and mid-1950s, sound recording was only possible on large acetate or lacquer discs, which were expensive and not reusable, so recording was more limited. This means we often only hear the voices of ‘the great and the good’ archived from this era; politicians, leaders or notable personalities. Reusable magnetic tape was a cheaper recording medium, so many more broadcasts could be recorded from the mid-1950s. Also, tape recorders were more portable, allowing broadcasters to get out of the studio more easily and reach a wider cross-section of the public.
There are no voices of Māori women voters of 1893 here and the voices of Māori women do not appear in the sound archive in number, until regular Māori radio programmes began in the 1960s (The exceptions being leaders like Te Puea Hērangi or broadcasters such as Airini Grennell.) Working class or rural voices were also much less likely to be recorded or archived until tape recording technology extended the reach of the radio microphone beyond the formal setting of a broadcasting studio.
However by the mid-1950s any woman who was at least 21 in 1893 (and therefore eligible to vote in that election) was already aged in her 80s – so in many ways it is remarkable that the few voices of women voters we have recorded, exist at all.
Some of these recordings were featured in Gaylene Preston's Hot Words and Bold Retorts – actors lip-synch the recollections of four women.
Finally, the details which accompanied these recordings in the former Radio New Zealand Sound Archives were very sparse. Originally we did not even have the names of the three elderly women interviewed in 1963, and only established them through listening to the female interviewer and doing some archival detective work matching the names she mentions with death records. We are grateful to the family history researchers who have shared their images and information with us and , as always, if you recognise any of the women in this exhibition we would love to hear from you.
Click the Whakatū Wāhine tile below to view the exhibition.