Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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SHEPPARD, Katherine Wilson

(1848–1934).

Social reformer.

A new biography of Sheppard, Katherine Wilson appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Katherine Wilson Malcolm was born in Liverpool in 1848 but was reared and educated in Scotland. Her father, Francis Malcolm, has been described as a banker and lawyer. In 1869 Kate Malcolm came to New Zealand with her mother and sisters. The family settled at Christchurch where Kate, two years later, married Walter Allen Sheppard, a member of the first Christchurch City Council.

Mrs Sheppard was active in social work in connection with the Trinity Congregational Church. In 1885 she was one of the first to join the newly established Women's Christian Temperance Union. Two years later she was appointed superintendent of the Franchise Department of the W.C.T.U. For the next six years Mrs Sheppard led the campaign for votes for women. She prepared and circulated leaflets, corresponded with sympathisers in New Zealand and overseas, wrote letters to the press, and prodded branches of the W.C.T.U., church meetings, and debating societies to discuss the subject of women's franchise.

In 1888 Mrs Sheppard prepared the first of five parliamentary petitions submitted by the W.C.T.U., praying that the definition of “elector” in the Electoral Act be altered to include women. The petition was presented by Sir John Hall who led the attack in succeeding years.

The second and third petitions, in 1890 and 1891, bore more than 10,000 signatures, and the fourth, in 1892, more than 20,000. In that latter year Franchise Leagues were formed in many centres on the initiative of the W.C.T.U. The campaign gathered momentum and the 1893 petition obtained the record number of 31,872 signatures, “genuine and all of women”, which was nearly a third of the adult female population of New Zealand.

While Mrs Sheppard successfully roused public opinion, supporters of the cause fought the battle in Parliament. A suggestion to give the vote to women property holders only was rejected by the W.C.T.U. In 1893, after several setbacks, an Electoral Act with the desired amendment at last obtained a majority. On 19 September it received the Governor's assent and, in the general elections later that year, New Zealand women for the first time exercised the vote.

In June 1891 Mrs Sheppard had inaugurated a women's page in the Prohibitionist, using the pen-name “Penelope”. Four years later, she was appointed editor of the White Ribbon, the new journal of the W.C.T.U. The women's organisations had high hopes of using the franchise to gain prohibition and other social reforms. In April 1896 a conference in Christchurch formed a National Council of the Women of New Zealand, with Mrs Sheppard as president. She retained this office (apart from one term as vice-president in 1898–99) until the turn of the century when she left New Zealand to travel abroad.

In Britain and on the continent of Europe, Mrs Sheppard met many leaders of feminism. After her return to New Zealand she was re-elected president of the National Council in 1905, but the organisation, which had come into sharp conflict with the Liberal Government, went out of existence soon afterwards. It was revived during the First World War when Mrs Sheppard was again elected president.

Her first husband having died in 1915, Mrs Sheppard, 10 years later, married William Sidney Lovell Smith, the author of Outlines of the Women's Franchise Movement in New Zealand (Christchurch, 1905). On 13 July 1934 she died at her home in Riccarton. Her close friend, Jessie Mackay, paid tribute to her as “the woman whose life and personality made the deepest mark upon New Zealand's history”.

by Herbert Otto Roth, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Deputy Librarian, University of Auckland.

  • Woman Today, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 1937, “Pioneer Women”, Mackay, J.


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