New Zealand — the most progressive country on Earth? In some ways, they indisputably are. While Britain was still considering expanding the vote from only unmarried women to married ones as well; while the proposal of Susan B. Anthony on the voting rights for women was languishing in Congress (and even her most ardent supporters consider the idea somewhat bizarre); while some Swedish women were allowed to vote in local election, New Zealand passed a full and unrestricted women’s suffrage law.
On this day, September 19, in 1893, with a simple change of the word “man” to “person” via the Electoral Act of 1893 every woman “of the age of twentyone years or upwards who has a freehold estate of £25” was allowed to vote.
New Zealand was the first self-governing country to pass a universal suffrage law, but that drive for equality began at least a hundred years earlier in England. Mary Wollstonecraft’s treatise, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” the first publication to take up in writing the cause of women’s suffrage, argued that “if woman be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence or general practice.”