Women gather to celebrate Womens' Suffrage Day in Timaru

National Council of Women South Canterbury branch president Alison Gray (right) and Grace Moore on Tuesday prepare to ...
JOHN BISSET/ STUFF

National Council of Women South Canterbury branch president Alison Gray (right) and Grace Moore on Tuesday prepare to celebrate the anniversary of New Zealand becoming the first self-governing country in the world to give all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

The balancing act of being a mother, a wife, a teacher and a friend, is still a challenge now, as it was back in 1893.

That was the word from guest speaker Timaru woman Rachel Fenwick​ at a breakfast held on Tuesday to mark Women's Suffrage Day.  

On September 19, 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to give all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

The work of New Zealand woman Kate Sheppard, and other suffragettes, was on the minds of women gathered at the event, including Ngaire Nicol.

"I think all the women from back then would be very proud of what's been achieved today," Nicol said.

"It must have been so difficult for women to sign the petition to give women the right to vote."

A science teacher, mother and wife, Fenwick spoke of the honour she felt in being a woman teaching science at Timaru Boys' High School, in a subject which was traditionally "more of a man's subject".

"I went back to teaching when my son Kit, was 8 months old," Fenwick said.

"I feel really pleased and happy that I get to challenge young people who are coming through into society. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a teacher and a dean."

She said being a female teacher and dean at a boys' school allowed her to push some of the "traditional barriers" in terms of gender.

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When she began at Timaru Boys' High School she started as a physical education teacher, taking up a role as a rugby coach of one of the school's teams.

"At the start the boys struggled with that a bit but then a few years later boys in year 12 came up to me and asked if I could coach their rugby team.

"It's about the best person for the job."

Another idea she had was teaching science history, which involved science therapies and developments created by women.

National Council of Women South Canterbury branch president Alison Gray told the crowd that they needed to carry forward the movement that Sheppard initiated successfully campaigning for votes for women.

She also acknowledged the work of Timaru woman Faye Hammond who had set up the Suffrage Day commemorations for the past 21 years.

 - The Timaru Herald

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