Most people - men and women - accepted the idea that there were two separate gender 'spheres'. Women, it was widely believed, were naturally suited for domestic affairs such as keeping a home and raising children, while only men were fitted for public life and the rough-and-tumble world of politics.
In the later nineteenth century, however, growing numbers of women began to challenge this narrow view of the world. New opportunities opened up for women and girls (especially those from wealthy or middle-class families) in secondary and university education, medicine, and in church and charitable work. Attention soon turned to women's legal and political rights.
The suffrage campaign in New Zealand began as a far-flung branch of a broad late-nineteenth century movement for women's rights that spread through Britain and its colonies, the United States and northern Europe.
This movement was shaped by two main themes: equal political rights for women and a determination to use them for the moral reform of society (through, for example, the prohibition of alcohol).