Sunday 28 April 2019

Suffrage in Stitches

Do you know that New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote?

Left panel made by my mum, right panel made by me

You can read all about the history of how NZ women earned the right to vote in 1893 here:

A couple of extracts:

  • In most other democracies – including Britain and the United States – women did not win the right to the vote until after the First World War. 

  • This achievement was the result of years of effort by suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard. In 1891, 1892 and 1893 they compiled a series of massive petitions calling on Parliament to grant the vote to women.

To celebrate the 125th anniversary of Women's Suffrage in 2018, Vinnies Resew started a project to "recreate the suffrage petition through fabric, stories and conversations. With the help of 546 individual New Zealand makers and a lot of recycled textiles, Vinnies Re Sew will be creating an extraordinary textile work reflecting the physical size of the original suffrage petition and celebrating it through stitching the lives of the woman petitioners of 1893 and beyond".

After Caroline O'Reilly from Vinnies Resew came and spoke at our quilt guild last month, I decided to see if any of my ancestors had signed the suffrage petition. It's very easy to find out because it's all been digitised and there's a search function here:

I entered some of my ancestors names, and found that my great grandmother had signed the petition:

So, even though many of the panels were already finished, I offered to make one for my great grandmother.  And my mum offered to make one for my great grand mother's sister in law - Mary Sarah Crawford Abernethy.

You'll notice that my great grandmother was born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1868. There were only about 20,000 people living in Dunedin then.  Many of the women who signed the petition were born in Scotland or England and emigrated to New Zealand before 1893.  

My great grandmother was married for 58 years and lived to be 95 years old.  She died before I was born, but my dad remembers her well.  My mum and dad have this wonderful silver epergne (an ornamental centrepiece for a dining table, typically used for holding fruit or flowersthat was presented to my great grandparents on their 25th wedding anniversary.  

These Suffrage in Stitches panels are going to be exhibited at Wellington Museum (not Te Papa) during August 2019.  It feels great to have been part of this historical event and I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibition.  

Each panel is 8 1/2" x 21 3/4" = 21.5cm x 55.5cm to equal the size of the sheets of paper in the petition. 


Ali Honey said...

What an interesting post Wendy. Well done to you and your Mum. I think I will use the links you have given to do a bit of research on both sides of our family. Thanks.

FlourishingPalms said...

This is a wonderful legacy for you and your family, Wendy! How marvelous that you know this history, and have pictures and mementos to document it. And it's especially exciting for you and your mum that your history will be displayed in a museum! Goodness. Very few of us will ever have such an opportunity. Congratulations for being able to hold your ancestors in such high esteem.

Rochelle aka Bella Quilts said...

What a wonderful way to honor those women of your family who pioneered women's rights that so many take for granted today. It will be quite a display in August and to know that yours honoring family members will be included must be a thrill. Congratulations and thank you for this look at your family history.

Michelle said...

What an interesting project! I love the combining of these embellished wall-hanging with the history of New Zealand’s suffragettes. I’m from the United States, and frankly New Zealand is ahead of us in many ways. You and your mom do beautiful work!

Julie said...

Beautiful work - not that we'd expect anything less. thanks for the link too, I was able to find some of my family's signatures.

Terry said...

What a brilliant project. To honour your strong women ancestors and with a quilt just seems like the perfect combination. Both wall-hangings are beautiful

Chopin - A Passionate Quilter said...

Great post - nice to see the work of those who were quilters before we were!

JanineMarie said...

This is fascinating, Wendy. It’s amazing to me that even when fighting for women’s rights, women signed their names with their husbands’ first names. I think it took many more years for that practice to change. Your panels are beautiful, and a lovely tribute.

Karen said...

I find your blocks for the suffrage quilt very interesting including the stories that go with them.