Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Suffrage Centennial Celebrations in Rotorua

Today marks the 125th anniversary, when on the 19th of September 1893 New Zealand became the first self-governing country to grant women over the age of 21 the legal right to vote.

There are many events being held across the country this month to mark #Suffrage125. This blog post looks back at how Rotorua celebrated the Centennial celebrations in 1993.


Rosemary Michie with a list of local women registered on the electoral roll for 1893.
Source: The Daily Post, September 17, 1993, p. 3

Rotorua hosted a weekend long suffrage programme that kicked off on Friday 17th September 1993 with The Great Suffrage Centennial Debate at The Civic Centre. The debate organised by the Rotorua Toastmasters and Mokoia Jaycees saw Brian Gillespie, Emily Schuster and Daphine Frizzell take the affirmative that women have achieved positive change since the vote, against Johnny Lepper, Anne Mackay and Ben Benfield. The affirmative team won of course.

On Saturday morning there was a chance for women to tackle a new confidence course at the opening of the Banks Challenge Course at the Agrodome. The course was designed by ex-army major and the then director of the New Zealand Māori Arts and Craft Institute John Mark.


Rotorua MP Paul East with Lyn Preston at the Banks Challenge Course at the Agrodome.
Source: The Daily Post, September 20, 1993, p. 2.

A Saturday afternoon garden party was hosted at the Te Runanga tearooms in Government Gardens. Members of the Suffrage committee dressed up in period clothing. The Daily Post reported that Mrs Dorothy Pountney, 100, was the oldest person present. A time capsule signed by those present is kept here at Rotorua Library.


Women's Suffrage Centennial Time Capsule held at Te Aka Mauri Rotorua Library.

An interdenominational service was held at St Lukes Church on Sunday evening, where several guests gave accounts of early women settlers to Rotorua.

A suffrage dinner was held that night at the Skyline Restaurant with special guest Dr. Bev O’Keffe, a graduate of Auckland Medical School’s first intake. Betty Mollgaard was also presented with a life membership by the National Council of Women at the dinner.

On Monday evening author Sandra Coney gave a talk and slide show presentation on the history of New Zealand women since the vote to promote her book Standing in the Sunshine: a history of New Zealand women since they won the vote.


Sandra Coney promoting her book Standing in Sunshine in Rotorua.
Source: The Daily Post, September 22, 1993, p. 18.

Local businesses were also encouraged to join the festivities by decorating their windows with the suffrage colours of purple, white and gold.

To mark the Centennial, The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993 was awarded to women and men who had made a contribution to the rights of women.  545 people received the one-off medal, including nine women from Rotorua. They were Anne Bowie, Inez Haereata Kingi, Areta Koopu, Dorothy Huhana “Bubbles” Mihinui, Christine Shelia Peacocke, Lyn Preston, Emily Rangitiaria Schuster, Elizabeth Marjorie Urquhart, and Rangitamoe Louie Waaka.


The New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993.
Source: New Zealand Defence Force


The Zonta Group of Rotorua, an organisation committed to empowering women through service and advocacy, planted trees in Centennial Park establishing the Suffrage Grove.

Daughters of the Land, Nga Uri Wahine a Hineahuone: a glimpse into the lives of rural women in the Rotorua region 1893-1993 was an exhibition held at The Bath-House Art & History Museum. A book by Joan Boyd that was published to compliment the exhibition.

The Rotorua Women’s Suffrage Centennial Committee also published a book Women to Remember, that profiled local women. 

A writing competition ‘Profile of a Memorable Woman of the Bay of Plenty’was run by the Rotorua Writers Group. A compilation of 10 selected entries was published in book form (Memorable Women of the Bay of Plenty).

We have loan copies of both Daughters of the Land and Women to Remember available at Rotorua Library. There is a reference copy of Memorable Women of the Bay of Plenty available to view in the Don Stafford research room at the library.


Memorable Women of the Bay of Plenty, Women to Remember, and Daughters of the Land.


If you have any photos or memories of the 1993 Suffrage Centennial Celebrations please add them to Rotorua Kete, our online community space.

This post was written by Graeme.



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