Women’s History Month

March in the United States is Women’s History Month and the theme for 2020 is “Valiant Women of the Vote” to honor “the brave women who fought to win suffrage rights for women, and for the women who continue to fight for the voting rights of others.”

White camelia, symbol of the suffragists. (image: Golladay, Wikimedia)

I got to thinking about New Zealand, the first country to grant all women over the age of 21 the right to vote. 
In 1893 as part of a continuing campaign the suffragists organised thirteen separate petitions to extend the vote or franchise to women. The largest was signed by 31,872 women nearly 25% of the European women in the country. Only one of these petitions survives and you can search here at Women and the Vote for more information and the database of surviving signatories (this includes a scan of each original signature).

Included in the database are seventeen Fleming and two Flemming women:
Mary and Anne from Auckland; Mary Ann, Elizabeth Ann, Sarah and M. Jean from Canterbury; Agnes, Alice, Emily, Jane, Mary, two Margarets, a Mrs Fleming of Duncan St and a Mrs Fleming of McLaggan St all from Dunedin and J.F. and M. Fleming from Southland.

When the bill became law on the 19th September all women over the age of 21 who intended  to vote in the general election on 29 Nov 1893 needed to travel to their Council offices to be added to the electoral roll.  In the two months before the election 116 Fleming women were part of the 109,479 adult females were enrolled to vote. You can view the 1893 electoral roll at findmypast.com 116 Fleming women from the following electoral districts: Ashley (3), Avon (2), Awarua (1), Bay of Islands (1), Bay of Plenty (3), Buller (1), Caversham (3), Christchurch (4), Auckland City (4), Clutha (8), Dunedin (17), Eden (1), Egmont (2), Ellesmere (3), Franklin (3), Hawkes Bay (3), Inangahua (1), Invercargill (1), Kaiapoi (3), Manukau (6), Mataura (1), Nelson (4), Oamaru (1), Palmerston (2), Parnell (3), Patea (1), Rangitata (2), Rangitikei (1), Riccarton (1), Selwyn (1), Taieri (4), Timaru (3), Waihemo (4), Waikouaiti (1), Wairau (4), Waitaki (1), Waitemata (1), Wakatipu (6) and Wellington (5).

Imagine the jubilation on polling day! An article in The Press, 29th November 1893 observed in Christchurch “the remarkably businesslike way in which the women voted”. The ladies arrived early, took possession of the polling booths and filled the side walks that lead to the booths resembling “a gay garden party”. 

New Zealand remembers the 19th September victory each year as White Camelia or Suffrage Day.