Saturday, July 24, 2010

Memorial to the Suffragists

In 1993, the centennial of New Zealand women gaining the suffrage, a memorial was set up in central Auckland.

It's a bright and cheerful affair done in coloured tiles, but opinions are widely divided on this memorial. Many in the artistic community would like to see it go, and recently it's become something of an issue in this year's upcoming mayoral election.

I've no wish to engage in political or artistic debate on its merits, but I'll miss this memorial if it does disappear. Perhaps it is more of the craft shop than the art gallery, to paraphrase one commentator, but to me that's part of its charm. It speaks to me of the lesser-known heroines of the suffrage movement, hanging up their aprons, pinning on their hats, and letting the mending wait for an hour or two while they went out to meetings. The women who spent hours collecting signatures for pro-suffrage petitions. Who somehow found the energy, with all the other demands on them, to support the cause that meant so much to them.

This week marks the anniversary of the third and final suffrage petition's being presented to Parliament. It was a massive undertaking, with 32,000 signatures - a substantial proportion of the adult female population of the time. The petition forms were joined into a 300-yard long bundle that was ceremoniously unrolled in the House. Two months later, a new Electoral Act came into law. All adult women now had the right to vote.