New Zealand's pioneering suffragists were inspired both by the equal-rights arguments of philosopher John Stuart Mill and British feminists, and by the missionary efforts of the American-based Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
A number of New Zealand's leading male politicians, including John Hall, Robert Stout, Julius Vogel, William Fox and John Ballance, supported women's suffrage. In 1878, 1879 and 1887 bills or amendments extending the vote to women (or at least female ratepayers) only narrowly failed to pass in Parliament.
Outside Parliament, the movement gathered momentum from the mid 1880s, especially following the establishment of a New Zealand WCTU in 1885. Skilfully led by Kate Sheppard, WCTU campaigners organised a series of huge petitions to Parliament: in 1891 over 9,000 signatures were gathered; in 1892 almost 20,000; and finally in 1893, nearly 32,000 - almost a quarter of the adult European female population in New Zealand.
Autograph Hunters: A vast army of volunteers gathered signatures for the suffrage petitions throughout New Zealand. 'Even in back lanes and alleys', the Auckland Star reported, 'resolute-looking female members of the [suffrage] committee present themselves at every door, with petition in hand, and volubly explain their mission. Their enthusiasm is infectious'.