What Was the First Country to Give Women the Right to Vote?

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to allow all women to vote.

The right to vote is also called ‘’Women's Suffrage’’. Countries throughout the world achieved the right of women to vote at different times. In many countries, women’s voting right was granted before universal voting right.

Limited Voting Rights Before 1893

Countries such as Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Australian colonies granted women limited voting rights in the late 19th century. National and international organizations were started to stir-up efforts for women to vote. This was not the first instance of women's suffrage, however.

In ancient Athens, the top leadership ascribed to abbesses in the Catholic Church allowed few women to vote and sit in the national assemblies. In 1654, Marie Guyart, a French nun working with the First Nations peoples of Canada, wrote about Iroquois women suffrage practices. The Iroquois had a matrilineal kinship system where descent and property passed through female line.

The modern democracy started with men having the right to vote then it proceeded to women. The universal men and women voting in Hawaii kingdom started in 1840. Later, in 1852, the constitution changed and withdrew women voting while men voted basing on property ownership.

In 1718 to 1772, conditional women’s voting rights were initiated in Sweden. The limitations also took effect in the colonial America where Lydia Taft became the first woman to vote in 1756. This happened during the British rule in the colony of Massachusetts. Later, in 1776 to 1807, only single white women with property would vote.

The First Country to Give Women the Right to Vote

New Zealand became the first country to allow all women to vote in 1893. Women’s voting started after two decades of campaigning by Mary Ann Muller and Kate Sheppard. Women’s Christian Temperance Union of New Zealand led by Anne Ward also played an important role in the campaigns. They argued that only women could uphold dignity in democratic politics.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union campaigners took several petitions to parliament. In 1892, they delivered a petition with 20,000 signatures followed by another of 32,000 signatures in 1893. New Zealand’s quarter population of female adults participated in the petition. From 1887, several bills to allow women to vote passed in the House of Representatives but they were played down in the Upper Legislative Council.

In the 1893 election, the suffragist Catherine Fulton organized a protest. This led to the introduction of another electoral bill to have women vote by John Balance in 1892. However, the bill lacked practical postal vote and it was rejected. Later, 1893 women’s suffrage petition received a popular support in parliament. The Lower House passed the new election bill with a large majority. In the Upper House, the Premier Richard Seddon manipulated some councilors and the bill passed with 20 votes against 18 on September 8, 1893. Finally, on September 18, 1893, the new governor Lord Glasgow signed the bill into law. The Electoral Act of 1893 gave all New Zealand women the right to vote.

Countries That Followed New Zealand

Other countries that allowed women voting after New Zealand include South Australia in 1894, Western Australia in 1899, Grandy Duchy of Finland in 1906, Russian Empire in 1907, and Norway in 1913 among others.

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