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Long road from suffrage to a seat in parliament

Thursday 2 July 2020 12:32pm

Coleman_suffrage_thumbnailNew Zealand may have been the first country to enfranchise women but it took a further 40 long years to get the first woman elected to parliament. The history of women striving to share in governing the country, a neglected footnote in the nation’s electoral history, is now captured in From Suffrage to a Seat in the House: The path to parliament for New Zealand women by Jenny Coleman.

Coleman has drawn on a wide range of sources to create a rich portrayal of a rapidly evolving colonial society in which new ideas and social change were inconstant friction with the status quo.

‘I’ve always been very proud of the fact that New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the vote,’ says Coleman.

‘I assumed we gained the right to be elected to Parliament at the same time and was shocked, really, to find out it took so incredibly long to achieve that right and then for the first woman to be elected.’

Women were not entitled to stand as candidates in national elections until 1919 – 26 years after they won the right to vote in those elections. Even then there was resistance, with the editor of the Auckland Star stating that it would open the way for
‘a class of aggressive females who, thirsting for publicity, would be constantly pushing themselves forward into positions for which they are in no sense fitted’.

It was not until 1933, when Elizabeth McCombs won the Lyttelton seat, following the death of her husband, the sitting MP.

‘As I started to look at why it had taken so long I was surprised that so little had been written about this important part of women’s involvement in the democratic process,’ says Coleman.

‘It did feel like a neglected footnote in our otherwise proud history, but from my point of view we should celebrate women’s tenacity and resilience in the face of constant obstruction and political game-playing.’

From Suffrage to a Seat in the House: The path to parliament for New Zealand women will be published 1 July by Otago University Press.

For more information about From Suffrage to a Seat in the House go to:

To arrange an interview, an extract or a review copy please contact OUP Marketing and Publicity Co-ordinator Laura Hewson at