On the money: Kate Sheppard and the making of a New Zealand feminist icon – Newshub

Posted: September 20, 2021 at 8:50 am

Sheppard became the first president of the National Council of Women (NCW) in 1896, but flanking her in bronze are others central to the women's movement.

Meri Te Tai Mangakhia of Taitokerau requested the vote for women from the Kotahitanga parliament. Amey Daldy was a leader of Auckland's Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and Franchise League. Ada Wells of Christchurch worked for equal educational opportunities for girls and women. Harriet Morison of Dunedin was an advocate for working-class women and active in the Tailoresses' Union. And Helen Nicol led the important women's franchise campaign in Dunedin.

The monument also recognises the complex layers and themes of women's suffrage, including the place of men such as MP Sir John Hall who played a vital part in the suffrage victory. Seven other prominent suffragists are also named. Smaller panels depict generic women going about their daily lives, all part of the wider movement.

So what makes Sheppard so iconic? As well as her role in a world-first episode in New Zealand history, I would argue Sheppard embodies many of the characteristics common to modern heroines globally.

She is emblematic of a mother figure, specifically as a maternal feminist concerned with home, purity and well-being. Metaphorically, her work involves giving birth to the nation.

Accompanied by an image of the symbolic white camellia flower presented to pro-suffrage MPs, Sheppard's image on the banknote is part of her invention as a feminine, stylishly dressed, commanding figure.

But there are other dynamics at work, too. Sheppard is sometimes framed as a reformer, called to work for a more peaceful and egalitarian society. But the 2015 punk-rock musical That Bloody Woman portrays her as a rebel warrior queen, fighting with bravery and determination.

Intrigue in her private life also adds to Sheppard's appeal. Was her marriage to Walter Sheppard unhappy? They lived apart from 1905 until he died in 1915. Author Rachel McAlpine wrote a fictional account involving an extramarital affair and a love child.

And what of the rumours surrounding Sheppard's friendship with William Lovell-Smith, who she married towards the end of her life after the death of his wife Jenny? Her private life hints at mystery and suggests a woman advancing new ways of co-habiting.

There is also tragedy. Sheppard lost her only child, Douglas, in 1910, and outlived her nearest and dearest friends and relations, including her only grandchild.

Sheppard's shape-shifting presence leaves room for us to create our own versions to augment all the writing she left revealing her beliefs and ideas. The Kate Sheppard Women's Bookshop aptly memorialises her, and her leadership is honoured through scholarships and awards.

All this has helped keep her memory alive, especially with the feminists who have always claimed her as a heroine.

Sheppard is on the money, then, but who else might represent the heroic archetype? Waikato woman of mana and Kngitanga leader Te Puea Hrangi is surely one, described by historian J.G.A. Pocock as possibly the most influential woman in New Zealand's political history.

Te Puea was also a mother figure. A literal healer, she nursed her people back to health -- especially after the smallpox epidemic of 1913 and the devastating 1918 influenza epidemic that killed a quarter of the population at Mangatwhiri, leaving many orphans to be cared for.

Her motto is said to have been "work, eat, pray, work again". Te Puea was called to help her people and was dedicated to leading their resurgence. In particular, her efforts secured the Kngitanga movement. Part of her legacy as the most active leader of her generation was the building of Trangawaewae marae at Ngruawhia.

Like Sheppard, Te Puea's health and welfare work included campaigns against alcohol and smoking. In the face of Pkeh resistance she built an impressive health facility at Trangawaewae. In 1951 she became the first patron of the Mori Women's Welfare League.

Her activism included seeking compensation for land confiscation. An early peace warrior, she led a non-violent campaign against conscription during the first world war. Like Sheppard, she was part of an international network and well-connected around the Pacific.

Also like Sheppard, Te Puea was strategic and collaborated with many men. She launched Mui Pmare's political career and later collaborated with pirana Ngata. Well known in the Pkeh world as Princess Te Puea, in 1937 she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

In many ways, of course, Christchurch and Ngruawhia were worlds apart. While both women challenged the state, Sheppard represented a mainstream Pkeh establishment, whereas Te Puea pursued mana motuhake for her people. Yet, placed side by side and viewed through an early 21st-century lens, both are important heroines in history.

Both stand for citizens working together for the common good. Kate Sheppard might be on the money to represent women's rights as a fundamental part of Aotearoa New Zealand. But, as her memorial suggests, it's important we don't see her as the only woman worthy of being on a pedestal.

Katie Pickles is a professor of History at the University of Canterbury.

Pickles received funding from Royal Society Te Aparangi James Cook Research Fellowship.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

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On the money: Kate Sheppard and the making of a New Zealand feminist icon - Newshub

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